In response to the deadly terrorist raid in Algeria earlier this month, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba said Sunday that the Self-Defense Forces should have the right to use weapons to rescue Japanese caught up in armed conflicts overseas.
The security hawk called for relaxing legal restrictions on the SDF’s use of weapons abroad, which are based on the current interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution, for rescue missions. He made the remarks on a debate program on NHK.
“It is the government’s primary responsibility to protect the lives and property of Japanese nationals. . . . Minimum necessary use of weapons (to fulfill such a responsibility) cannot be regarded as the exercise of force” banned by the Constitution, Ishiba said, indicating his willingness to amend the Self-Defense Forces Law.
Article 9 of the Constitution stipulates that 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, and that land, sea and air forces, or any other military means, will never be maintained to accomplish that aim.
Ishiba is a strong advocate of revising the Constitution to allow the SDF to have a more active role in the international community. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the LDP chief, has pledged to revise the Constitution and position the SDF as a national defense force and explicitly allow them to engage in collective self-defense, or to defend an ally under armed attack.
Tokyo has long held that while Japan has the right to collective self-defense, it cannot exercise the right because doing so would violate the pacifist Constitution.
On Jan. 16, foreign workers at a gas plant in eastern Algeria were taken hostage by Islamist militants. A rescue effort by Algerian forces resulted in the deaths of 37 hostages from eight countries, including 10 Japanese, and 29 militants.
Separately on Saturday, sources said autopsies on the bodies of Japanese killed in the hostage crisis revealed damage from weapons fire and explosions.
The victims may have been caught in firefights between Islamic militants and Algerian forces trying to rescue them.
On Saturday, the day he returned home after being dispatched to deal with the hostage crisis, Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi told reporters “it’s true that hostages died during the military operations.” But, he added, “most of them are presumed to have been shot to death by terrorists.”
Kanagawa Prefectural Police have opened an investigation on charges of murder, abduction and confinement of the Japanese victims under a penal code provision that allows authorities to investigate criminal offenses committed against Japanese overseas.
Police autopsies on the nine bodies brought home on a government plane Friday showed some contained metal fragments apparently from explosions at the plant, the sources said.
Police will try to determine whether each was killed by the terrorists or members of the Algerian military by evaluating the results of the autopsies and analyzing the fragments found in the bodies, the sources said.