A Christian activist who is campaigning against his country's involvement in Iraq has welcomed a statement by a Japanese court that the operations of his Japan's military personnel violate the country's constitution.
"It is a historic and epoch-making decision," Yoshinori Ikezumi, a lay Anglican who represents a group of citizens who had taken legal action to suspend the deployment of the Japan Self Defense Forces, as the military is known, and which serve in a non-combatant role. More than 3,200 other people have said they support the legal action.
Japanese aircraft provide a transport service between Kuwait and Baghdad, and the government argues that the Baghdad airport is not a war zone.
The Nagoya High Court on April 17 dismissed the demand to have the operations suspended, saying it was not competent to make a final ruling in the case. Still, it said that the air transport operations of the Self-Defense Forces are "integral to the use of armed forces by other countries" and therefore violate Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which is referred to as the peace clause.
Ikezumi said that the plaintiffs would not appeal against the decision of the court.
Since its Iraq operations began in March 2004, Japanese air units have transported UN officials, multinational forces personnel and a total of about 596 tons of goods on 694 occasions, the Daily Yomiuri newspaper reported.
A Japanese law on special measures for helping rebuild Iraq, upon which the mission is based, stipulates that Self-Defense personnel can only work in noncombatant zones.
The constitution adopted after the Second World War bans the Japanese military from using force outside the country. Still, Japan has been able to build up a military force of around 250,000, but this is known as the Self-Defense Forces.
Article 9 states, "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."
Ikezumi's group described the court ruling as a "substantial victory" for them, and urged the government to withdraw the Self-Defense Forces from Iraq immediately.
For its part, the government rejected the contention that the mission in Iraq includes actions that violate Article 9 of the Constitution, and pledged to continue with transportation assistance for multinational forces.
Ikezumi said that, to him, the court decision supports what the Old Testament prophet Isaiah says in, "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:4). He said Isaiah's words are the basis of the peace clause in Japan's constitution.