U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement needs to be revised for cases involving civilian employees of the military “on duty”
November 22, 2011 Ryukyu Shimpo
The Japanese and the U.S. governments are discussing granting Japan jurisdiction in cases of crime or incidents involving civilian employees of U.S. military in Japan that have occurred “in the line of duty” when the United States authorities have difficulty adjudicating.
However, these talks are aimed at improving the application of the current law by recognizing exceptions rather than revising the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement. But what both governments should do is revise the agreement to give the Japanese side jurisdiction in cases of crime or incidents that involve U.S. military personnel on duty. They should avoid making superficial changes to the agreement, which currently allows arbitrary interpretations that work to the advantage of U.S. citizens.
The agreement should be revised to grant the Japanese side jurisdiction in all cases of traffic accidents caused by U.S. military personnel and civilians who have consumed alcohol while “on duty.” This is the logical step to take. It is ludicrous in the extreme that accidents caused by U.S. military personnel and civilians driving under the influence of alcohol are overlooked.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has clearly stated, “We should immediately revise the old agreement.” While the Japanese and U.S. governments have begun to tackle the issue, their movements are too slow.
It is not clear what is meant by “cases that the United States authorities might have difficulty adjudicating over.” Many uncertainties hinder the way forward on this issue and this latest development can only be seen as a half step forward because the possibility still exists that the discretionary powers of the United States authorities could have priority over those of the Japanese side.
The fact that the Japanese side does not have jurisdiction in cases of crime or incidents involving U.S. military personnel and civilians on duty is a symbol of the inequality of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.
That the Japanese and U.S. governments have moved to tackle the issue is possibly due to the Okinawan people’s growing protests against the irrationality in both governments’ handling of a traffic accident caused by a U.S. military civilian employee on duty. In that case, an Okinawan man riding a motorcycle who had returned to the prefecture to attend his Coming-of-Age ceremony was hit by a car driven by a U.S. military civilian employee. The victim of the accident died this January, but because the U.S. military civilian employee driving the car was judged to have been “on duty” he was exempted from prosecution. The United States authorities went no further than imposing an administrative sanction on the man, suspending his driver’s license for a period of five years.
Of the 62 cases of crime or incidents involving U.S. military civilian employees in Japan that have occurred “in the line of duty” during the five-year period of 2006-2010, none have been brought to a court-martial, and 27 of those cases were processed as being not subject to punishment.
U.S. military civilian employees who have caused traffic accidents while on duty continue to live peaceful lives thanks to their exemption from prosecution both in Japan and the United States. The Japanese government bears a huge responsibility for having permitted this unacceptable double standard in favor of the United States to continue and for having left the irrationality of the law untouched.
Some U.S. military judge advocates have remarked that in their opinion, in times of peace the countries hosting U.S. military bases have exclusive jurisdiction over cases of crime committed by U.S. military civilian employees.
In South Korea, where crimes committed by U.S. military personnel stationed there show no sign of any significant decline, the number of the cases that the South Korean side has jurisdiction over is rapidly increasing.
The situation in South Korea in which the U.S. military is under pressure from public opinion to deal with the issues overlaps with the situation in Okinawa.
The people of Okinawa need to unite to exert pressure on both the Japanese and U.S. governments to drastically revise the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.
(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)
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