Government reluctance to revise SOFA condemned -- Akahata editorial, July 2
Revising the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the United States and Japan has become a major political issue in the aftermath of the rape of a woman by a U.S. marine.
The Koizumi Cabinet is reluctant to revise the article that allows U.S. suspects to be held in custody by the U.S. forces even in cases in which Japan has jurisdiction. The government argues that improvement of the way the SOFA is applied will suffice.
In the Japan-U.S. joint committee on June 18, both sides discussed "improving SOFA applications" and agreed that a U.S. representative will visit Japan within two weeks with a view to settling the matter within 45 days.
Okinawans as well as people from various circles nationwide are expressing anger at the Koizumi Cabinet, and calls are increasing for the SOFA to be drastically revised.
Convincing explanation is impossible
Under the SOFA agreement, Japan has no jurisdiction over crimes committed by U.S. soldiers on duty, and if crimes are committed by off-duty soldiers Japan has jurisdiction over them but Japanese police are not allowed to arrest the suspects for investigation.
In a House of Representatives special committee meeting to discuss the rape in Okinawa, Akamine Seiken from the Japanese Communist Party revealed a Foreign Ministry document stating that the humiliating provision "is a product of Japan's political compromise with the United States and that it's not always easy to give a convincing explanation." Akamine demanded that the clause be amended or abolished.
"Political compromise" means that Japan yielded to the U.S. intention to shield U.S. servicemen from criminal prosecution.
Murder and rape are serious crimes and Japanese citizens have fallen victim to them; they are related to human dignity and fundamental rights as well as national sovereignty.
It's natural for a sovereign state to demand that a humiliating treaty be revised or abolished.
The Koizumi Cabinet said that it counts on favorable considerations by the United States concerning the hand-over of criminal suspects.
"Favorable consideration" was what the Japanese and the U.S. governments agreed on in dealing with limited cases of serious crimes, but its real aim was to prevent the SOFA from being revised. That was in the wake of the U.S. marines gang rape of a girl in 1995.
Can the human rights, lives, and safety of citizens be relegated to foreign consideration?
The U.S. forces have been consistent in refusing to hand suspects over to Japan, including one involved in a hit-and-run incident injuring a Japanese high school girl. It didn't hand over the suspect in defiance of an arrest warrant last year.
For all this, the Koizumi Cabinet brushes off the call for the revision of the SOFA. Which country does this government represent?
Crimes involving U.S. servicemen will never end. The rate of sexual assaults committed by U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan is higher than at any other U.S. military base in the world. This is not unrelated to the Japanese government's compliant attitude.
The U.S. forces in Japan are harming the Japanese people and threatening their safety by causing environmental destruction, noise, and aircraft accidents. In order to curb this U.S. arrogance as much as possible, it is essential to totally amend the SOFA in addition to allowing Japan to exercise criminal jurisdiction.
The SOFA provides for arrangements that take over the 1952 Japan-U.S. Administrative Agreements imposed on Japan during the U.S. occupation in conjunction with the first Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. The SOFA is an unequal treaty that guarantees the U.S. forces extraterritorial privileges in many aspects. At a minimum, criminal jurisdiction and controversial provisions should be revised.
Public opinion can do it
The Association of Prefectural Governors has adopted a resolution calling for the SOFA to be reviewed, which represents the demand of broad sections of the people irrespective of political stance.
To realize the SOFA revision, it is necessary to increase the movement urging the Koizumi Cabinet to listen to public opinion.
The Koizumi Cabinet's refusal to amend the SOFA in disregard of public opinion arises from its position of maintaining the U.S. bases in Japan indefinitely.
The only way to get rid of the tyrannical U.S. forces and crimes involving U.S. soldiers is to remove all U.S. bases from Japan. (end)
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