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50 years of Japan-U.S. Alliance SOFA, the Darkness - part III Japanese Government secretly agrees to renounce the right of jurisdiction

April 05,2010
1,048 – This is the number of Japanese who died in accidents and crimes committed by U.S. military personnel during the postwar era. U.S. military personnel are staying in Japan under the pretext of “defending Japan.” According to the Defense Ministry, the total number of accidents and crimes was about 210,000 between 1952 and 2008. The figure, however, excludes the number of criminal cases and deaths in Okinawa during the period of the U.S. occupation there (1945-1972).

The number of crimes committed by U.S. personnel was 7,334 in total between 1973 and 2009, showing that people’s everyday lives have been threatened by U.S. forces because of their very nature of having been trained to invade other countries.

Tip of iceberg

Just recently, many outrageous crimes have been reported: A woman was beaten to death in January 2006 in Yokosuka City in Kanagawa Prefecture; a taxi driver was stubbed to death in March 2008 in Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture; and a man was killed in a hit-and-run accident in Yomitan Village in Okinawa Prefecture. People who deal with the issue of U.S. soldiers’ crimes say that these examples are the tip of the iceberg.

In April, 2002, an Australian woman was sexually abused by U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk sailors in Yokosuka City in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Japanese prosecutors, however, decided not to indict these sailors. Although the civil court ordered them to pay three million yen in compensation, they went back to the U.S. without paying.

Due to her continuous struggle, Japan’s Defense Ministry in 2008 on behalf of the U.S. paid her the three million yen as “a monetary gift”. However, in reality, many victims have given up seeking compensation for their suffering.

System of Article 17 of Japan-U.S. SOFA

In order to discourage victims and their families to fight in courts for compensation, U.S. military personnel are given overwhelming legal advantages. Article 17 of the Japan-U.S. SOFA and other related agreements make this possible.

Article 17 states that the U.S. has the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over crimes committed by U.S. military personnel and their families “during their official duties,” and that only if they are “off duty,” does Japan have primary jurisdiction.

It is unreasonable that U.S. authorities have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over offenses committed by “on duty” U.S. servicemen. In addition to this, the “Agreed Minutes to the Japan-U.S. SOFA” clearly states that “an on-duty certificate” issued by the U.S. can determine whether the U.S. servicemen were “on duty” or not.

When revising the previous SOFA which was signed in February, 1952, the Japanese government secretly agreed that Japan would give up “its primary right to exercise jurisdiction over crimes other than crimes which are extremely critical for Japan” (Off-the record Minutes of the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee on October 28, 1953).

A report on the secret agreements published by the Foreign Ministry panel on March 9, 2010 deals with four themes, including the bringing in of nuclear weapons into Japan. At the March 19, 2010 House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, unsworn witnesses, such as then Foreign Ministry European Affairs Bureau director-general Togo Kazuhiko, testified, “There is no secret agreement other than this.” Dale Sonnenberg, lieutenant colonel and chief of International Law of the U.S. Forces in Japan at that time, in a co-authored book published in 2001 accepts the existence of the secret agreement on the Japan-U.S. SOFA, and candidly stated, “The Japanese government is faithful to the agreement.”

The need now is to abolish all secret agreements concerning Article 17 of the Japan-U.S. SOFA after providing full information about revision of that article and its related agreements, the off-the-record minutes.
(To be continued)

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