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U.S. agrees to keep Japanese victims of military crimes informed

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

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

  • Steven R. Simon

    Simon says the Japanese police and the Ministry of Justice need to stop the ghastly practice of coercing US servicemen [as well as all criminal suspects who do not speak Japanese] to sign statements in Japanese.

    • Christopher-trier

      Referring to yourself in the third person is never flattering.
      I say it’s Japan and in their country they should do whatever they
      bloody well please. If the Americans don’t like it, they can leave.
      The neo-colonial relationship has to end if Japan is ever to get on its feet again.

      • Steven R. Simon

        Simon says it’s not about sovereignty it’s about human rights.

      • Christopher-trier

        If Japan were doing this abroad your comment would carry weight. Japan is doing this in Japan, so it doesn’t. If the USA doesn’t like it, they can live. After all, they force most continental Europeans to deal with their butchered version of English in all official contexts and make no provision to provide assistance to them.

      • Steven R. Simon

        Simon says to Frère Christopher-Trièr – under Japanese law any person suspected of a crime can be held without charge for 21 days and there is no right to terminate custodial interrogation. Although there is an official right to remain silent great pressure is brought to bear to obtain a signed statement written in Japanese even if the person does not speak Japanese. I believe that criminal suspects have a fundamental human right to make a written statement in a language they understand – whether the suspect is a tourist, a foreign businessman or a foreign servicemember.

      • Christopher-trier

        Then don’t go to Japan. It’s that simple.

      • Steven R. Simon

        Simon says to Frère Christopher-Trièr, sadly you may be right in that it might take a sensational Kafkaesque case to resolve this human rights tragedy – hopefully it won’t involve you or any of your loved ones.