KORIYAMA, Fukushima Prefecture--A private group’s “tribunal” found the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. guilty of professional negligence resulting in death in last year’s nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture.
“Judges” in the tribunal concluded on May 20 that the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant resulted from a deliberate act to avoid preparations for a catastrophe--although it was possible to foresee and prevent.
“They shirked their responsibility by intentionally ruling out a situation that they should have been prepared for,” according to the ruling, given in front of a gallery of about 150 people.
Defense lawyers representing the accused argued that the government and TEPCO were not criminally responsible for the nuclear disaster.
“The accident was beyond their ability to foresee and avoid its consequences,” the defense said.
Although the results of the tribunal are not legally binding, “witnesses” who took the stand were actual people directly affected by the nuclear accident. “Prosecutors” and the “judges” were expected to act free from pressure and based on conscience.
To counter criticism that the absence of those accused would make the tribunal one-sided, the organizing committee brought in three lawyers, including a South Korean, to defend the government and TEPCO.
The judges consisted of Toshiyuki Tanaka, professor of war crimes at the Hiroshima Peace Institute at Hiroshima City University, and three other academics.
They said that charges of crimes against humanity should be pursued regarding the nuclear accident.
The organizing private group, led by Narihiko Ito, professor emeritus of history at Chuo University, said the tribunal was organized to determine those responsible for the nuclear accident, which was triggered by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, from the viewpoint of citizens.
“The past tribunals tried war crimes,” Ito said. “This is the first time to hold a tribunal on nuclear power.”
A number of people, many of them elderly or ill, died when they were forced to evacuate from their homes and medical facilities near the nuclear plant. Others died after being left behind in the 20-kilometer no-entry zone around the crippled plant.
There have been no official arrests or indictments in connection with the nuclear accident.
Ito’s group intends to promote a movement pursuing criminal responsibility of the government and TEPCO.
During the tribunal, Miyoko Watanabe, a 70-year-old organic farmer from Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, demanded that the government and TEPCO acknowledge their responsibility for the accident.
Watanabe said she was selling chemical-free jam and juice made from berries at a district in Tamura, 25 kilometers from the plant.
But she halted sales after her products were found to be contaminated with radioactive cesium.
“Weak people will not be able to live under the myth of safety and security built by lies,” Watanabe said, wiping away tears. “You should admit your responsibility for causing the accident.”
A defense lawyer for TEPCO argued, “We have complied with the safety standards set by the government.”
Watanabe has evacuated to Miharu, a town in Fukushima Prefecture, with four other family members, including her granddaughter, a fifth-grader.
Jotaro Wakamatsu, a 76-year-old poet from Minami-Soma in the prefecture, stressed that those responsible for the nuclear disaster must be denounced now to prevent a recurrence of the problems.
Criticizing the responses of the government and TEPCO to the accident, Hidehiko Yamamoto, a pediatrician at Osaka Red Cross Hospital in Osaka city, stressed the potential dangers of low-level radiation exposure.
Takemitsu Sato, a director who shot a documentary about the situation in Futaba county, which is situated in the 20-km no-entry zone, also had harsh words about the state and TEPCO for their handling of the crisis.
The world’s first citizens tribunal is said to be the “Russell-Sartre Tribunal,” which took up suspected war crimes by U.S. forces in the Vietnam War.
It came into being after Bertland Russell, a British philosopher, and French novelist Jean-Paul Sartre called for a process in which citizens could judge possible violations of international law and crimes against humanity, which had not been tried under a conventional court system.
International citizens groups have also held tribunals in connection with the Afghan war and the Iraq war.
(This story is compiled from reports by Tetsuya Kasai and Masakazu Honda.)
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