Tokyo and Washington have agreed to disclose U.S. court proceedings to victims of crimes allegedly committed in Japan by U.S. forces personnel, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday.
Under the new rule, which was agreed to last Friday during a meeting of the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee, the United States will inform Japan of details in court rulings before they are finalized.
Japan will also be informed of disciplinary action taken by the U.S. military. The information will be passed on to victims and their families upon their request.
Currently, only finalized court rulings have been passed on to the Japanese government, and the U.S. has to agree before the victims and their kin can be informed.
The new notification system will still have some limitations. Disclosure of disciplinary action to the victims will be limited to what perpetrators agree to release, the Foreign Ministry said.
Such information will be passed to Japan on a monthly basis, the ministry said.
Under the Status of Forces Agreement, Japan has no authority to try U.S. military personnel who have allegedly committed crimes in Japan while on duty.
The revision will go into effect on Jan. 1, Kishida said. This is the first time the U.S. and Japan have revised the disclosure system under the SOFA.
Later Tuesday, Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera visited Okinawa to explain the revision to Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, as well as other agreements reached at Thursday’s “two-plus-two” meeting between the Japanese and U.S. defense and foreign affairs chiefs to reduce Okinawa’s burden from hosting U.S. military bases.
With the latest move, the central government hopes to win local understanding in moving forward the long-standing replacement of the Futenma base in Ginowan with a planned new airstrip in the Henoko area in Nago in the north.
Nakaima expressed appreciation for Tokyo’s efforts to lessen Okinawa’s burden, but he reiterated Okinawa’s demand that Futenma be moved outside the prefecture.
“I hope these efforts will lead to (people’s ) understanding for our country’s security policy as well as a realignment of the U.S. military,” Kishida said at a regular news conference in Tokyo earlier in the day.
But lawyer Toshi Ikemiyagi, who has provided legal support for victims of crimes by U.S. military personnel, said a fundamental revamp of the SOFA is needed, though the disclosure revision is a step forward.
“The latest step, which I believe is only a small one, should have been taken a long time ago,” he said. “I don’t believe a slight revision like this can deter U.S. military personnel from committing crimes.”
Junji Kawano, a member of the Nago Municipal Assembly, expressed skepticism about the central government, saying the revision is only a ploy to win local consent for restarting the stalled Futenma relocation.
Information from Kyodo added