National / Politics

Bilateral pact limiting U.S. base workers' immunity to be inked next week

Kyodo, Staff Report

Aiming to deter crime, Japan and the United States will sign an agreement next week narrowing the scope of legal immunity granted to U.S. military base workers, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday.

The pact will supplement the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), under which the United States has primary jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel and base workers accused of crimes while on duty.

The move is a response to the arrest in May last year of a civilian U.S. base worker in Okinawa Prefecture over the violent death of a local woman.

The victim, Rina Shimabukuro, 20, was allegedly raped and murdered by Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a civilian employee at Kadena Air Base.

The slaying intensified anti-base sentiment in the prefecture, which shoulders much of the U.S. military presence in Japan.

“The U.S. will also make clear how it will control military personnel, helping to prevent incidents in Okinawa that involve them,” Kishida told a news conference.

Amid the furor over the Shimabukuro slaying, the Japanese and U.S. governments decided in July last year to clarify the scope of the “civilian component” of the Status of Forces Agreement. They also established four distinct categories of civilian personnel to be covered.

Shinzato, a former U.S. Marine, is to be tried in Japanese court.

Kishida said in late December that the two allied governments had agreed to sign a supplementary pact.

The announcement came ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s historic trip to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, which followed U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima in May.

With numerous issues unresolved in Okinawa, Tokyo is apparently eager to settle the immunity issue while Obama is still in office, since the future of the Japan-U.S. alliance under President-elect Donald Trump is filled with looming uncertainties.

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