Where is the People’s Tribunal on Fukushima?

Leaders of three powerful nations were being tried in public in Japan in summer 2004, more than a year after the United States invaded the nation of Iraq, and it was an incredible scene to witness. This was no small matter, either: U.S. president George W. Bush, British prime minister Tony Blair and Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi were being charged with crimes against humanity in connection with the Iraq invasion and/or support for that invasion.

I sat transfixed in the audience of a public hall in the downtown Japanese city of Kyoto, astonished that such a scene was playing out right before me. On stage there were prosecuting attorneys representing the public, defense attorneys representing the three leaders on trial and a procession of witnesses — including some Iraqi exiles who had come all the way to Japan just to testify about the tragedy befalling their country. (story here)

The news media in Japan, in what little coverage they gave of this event, called it a “mock trial” since there was no real power of subpoena, no real court in session, and of course, the three leaders — Bush, Blair and Koizumi — were not in attendance and were being judged in absentia.

But the “International Criminal Tribunal for Iraq”, as it was officially known, was not “mocking” anything. On the contrary, it was demonstrating something very powerful: that ordinary citizens in the nations of the world are not helpless and not voiceless when it comes to a crime of international proportions, as the invasion of Iraq most certainly was. Since the United Nations or the legal systems of the wealthiest nations would not dare to try world leaders for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, the citizens themselves would do it. This was “people power” in the flesh.

On a global level, a series of public sessions of a “World Tribunal on Iraq” (WTI) were held in several cities around the globe, with the Kyoto tribunal being just one part of that movement. At the end of it all, indictments against the U.S. and British governments were handed down, and the tribunal proceedings were collected and compiled in a book that was published in 2008. The final judgment of the WTI: Bush and Blair — guilty as charged of war crimes and of crimes against humanity.

Now in 2015, four years after the earthquake/tsunami that hit Japan, resulting in arguably the worst nuclear accident of all time, I look at the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident and wonder: What aren’t we doing the same thing with Fukushima that we did with Iraq? Where is the people’s tribunal on Fukushima?

If the people of the world could rise up in righteous anger and seek justice for the illegal invasion and occupation of sovereign nations, like they did with Iraq and Afghanistan, then surely we could do the same thing for the planet as a whole. After all, there is not one part of this globe that hasn’t been untouched by the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. The initial accident spewed radioactive fallout into the air over Japan that has been scattered by the four winds, and for most of these past four years, thousands of tons of highly radioactive groundwater and/or wastewater have been flowing into the Pacific Ocean and carried around the globe by the tides and currents.

If environmental damage of that magnitude is not a crime against humanity and nature, then I don’t know what is.

The company operating the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has, from the beginning, lied to and deceived both the Japanese public and the international community as to the severity of the accident. Thousands of Japanese evacuees from the affected areas around Fukushima still live in temporary housing, facing the reality that they may never get to go home again. The cleanup of affected areas is moving very slowly and it was recently announced by the government that it may take another half-century or so to fully decommission the crippled Fukushima plant.

In other words, the Fukushima crisis will continue long after most of us are dead and gone, and will be passed off to the next generation to deal with. The environmental damage caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident is permanent — lasting, at least, for as long as human life will exist on this planet.

And yet, as of today, the Japanese courts have rejected the notion of holding any one public official (or any other official) responsible for the nuclear catastrophe that is Fukushima.

Enough is enough. I say we, as ordinary working people of good conscience, now start thinking and talking about how we might organize a series of public hearings in the cities of the world that will do for Planet Earth what the public tribunals did for the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan just a few years ago: seek the truth, gather credible evidence, compile testimony for the public record and, most importantly, hold leaders in both the public and private sectors accountable.

The World Tribunal on Iraq hearings, in particular, can give us a reliable blueprint to go by in planning something similar for a Fukushima-related tribunal. Scientists from various countries and fields of specialty could be called to testify as to the actual facts and data relating to Fukushima, and nuclear whistleblowers would be encouraged to come forward with as much legal protection as could be afforded them.

Citizen evacuees in Japan could share their personal stories of suffering, and farmers in Japan and various other countries could testify to the environmental damage and tainting of food supplies due to Fukushima. Doctors and patients both inside and outside Japan could testify to the rising radiation levels and cancer rates since Fukushima. And marine biologists could testify as to the relation, if any, between the abnormally high levels of radioactive waste in the Pacific Ocean and cases in recent months of unprecedented mass beachings of sea mammals and dying off of ocean-based species here in Japan and in various regions of the world.

Officials of TEPCO, the Japanese government, the United States government (which sold Japan the nuclear technology in the first place) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the global nuclear industry’s promotional arm — would be summoned to testify. This would be for real, not as some sort of media gimmick.

Truth and accountability to the people of the world: that would be the mandate of such a“World Tribunal on Fukushima” (WTF) or whatever you want to call it. If we can all do it for Iraq, then surely we can do it for the Earth, the common mother of us all, and for the future generations to follow us.

I, for one, would be willing to donate every spare moment I have for the rest of my days to see something like this become a reality where Fukushima is concerned. It is that important to me.

It’s time that we stopped waiting around for the truth to come down from on high about Fukushima, and started using what power we do have as citizens, individually and collectively, to really deal with this continuing crisis of environmental devastation and public deception. Will we stand together on this and move forward with some kind of citizens’ tribunal on Fukushima before any more damage is done?

You know what I think. And if your own answer to that question is “yes”, then I stand with you. Let it begin here and now — a people’s tribunal on Fukushima in which we all have a voice.

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