The Democratic Party on Thursday demanded that Defense Minister Tomomi Inada resign for allegedly downplaying the seriousness of the South Sudan conflict by not describing it as “fighting” — a term would have required the Ground Self-Defense Force to withdraw.
At the Diet, Democratic Party lawmaker Yuichi Goto criticized the government for “having concealed” the situation in South Sudan by not describing the conflict as fighting.
By law, fighting cannot occur between non-state actors, thus any GSDF troops engaging in U.N. peacekeeping activities must be withdrawn from areas where conflict specifically described as fighting takes place.
In light of the spirit of the Constitution and the principles of Japan’s participation in U.N. peacekeeping activities, the Self-Defense Forces can only participate in U.N. peacekeeping operations in areas where conflicting parties have ceased “fighting.”
The issue came to light after the government released the daily activity logs of Japanese troops in South Sudan from last July, when security disintegrated and forced the Japanese to evacuate.
The government officially had said “armed clashes” were taking place at the time, but the logs said GSDF members deployed in Juba had to be wary of being drawn into “sudden fighting in the city.”
Inada dismissed the leading opposition party’s allegation at the House of Representatives budget committee, saying, “In a legal sense, there was no fighting in South Sudan even if the logs said there was.”
Inada also came under fire after the Defense Ministry admitted on Monday that it had “found” the daily activity logs after earlier claiming the documents had been discarded.
The ministry said it discovered digital copies of the logs after expanding its search.
In Thursday’s Diet session, Goto accused the ministry of deliberately concealing the logs. Inada denied this charge as well.
The documents are a firsthand record of the situation in the young and unstable East-Central African country.
The ministry received a request for disclosure in October but rejected it two months later saying that the daily activity logs had been destroyed. The logs covered the period between July 7 and July 12 in 2016, when a large clash between South Sudanese forces and rebels erupted in Juba. More than 270 people died in the fighting.
In the disclosed logs for July 11 and 12, the GSDF members said they had to “be careful about getting drawn into sudden fighting in the city” and also referred to the possibility of “the suspension of U.N. activities amid intensifying clashes in Juba.”
There was a heated debate last year on how to assess the security situation in South Sudan because Japan was considering whether to expand the GSDF’s role to give it responsibility for rescuing U.N. staff and others if they came under attack during the peacekeeping operation.
Japan deployed civil engineering troops in South Sudan in 2012 as part of the U.N. mission called UNMISS. In November, however, after the lethal fighting, it officially decided to let the GSDF take responsibility for rescue missions, judging the situation in Juba to be relatively calm.