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SOFA stands in way of Japan’s laws

  • 2015-08-14 15:00:00
  • , Tokyo Shimbun
  • Translation

(Tokyo Shimbun: August 14, 2015 – p.1)


 The reason Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga called for revising the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) on August 13 in response to the U.S. military helicopter crash is that the SOFA restricts the application of Japanese laws. Eleven years ago today a large U.S. Marine Corps transport helicopter crashed onto the campus of Okinawa International University. At that time, U.S. military blockaded the university campus, inviting the criticism that the SOFA is unfair. Since then, the SOFA remains unchanged and the situation has not been resolved.


 Annoyed by the lack of detailed information on the accident provided by the U.S. side, Onaga pointed out on August 13, “The SOFA has created the current state of affairs in which Japan has no say on the situation.”


 In accordance with Japan-U.S. Security, the SOFA stipulates Japan’s provision of facilities and the status of the U.S. military members so that the U.S. Forces Japan can maintain smooth operations. The application of Japanese laws is restricted by the SOFA.


 After the helicopter crash that occurred on August 13, 2004 at Okinawa International University, the U.S. military restricted access to the site for the reasons of preserving the wreckage and debris of the helicopter even though the crash site was within the school campus. The U.S. military refused to allow the Okinawa Prefectural Police Headquarters to conduct onsite investigations and did not provide sufficient explanations to the prefectural government.


 The U.S. military is being uncooperative in providing information in the latest accident as well, because the SOFA does not require the U.S. side to report on incidents or accidents caused by the U.S. Forces Japan. The SOFA also stipulates that the U.S. side has primary jurisdiction over incidents caused by U.S. military personnel if the U.S. side judges that they took place while they were on duty.


 A special measure law based on the SOFA excludes U.S. military aircraft from the application of the Civil Aeronautics Law. U.S. military aircraft including Osprey vertical takeoff and landing transport planes can fly at low altitudes over populated areas without being restricted by safety standards and minimum safe altitudes.


 Local governments that host U.S. military bases such as Okinawa and Kanagawa prefectures have been calling for drastic revisions of the SOFA. However, the Japanese government has only just started negotiating on a supplementary agreement on environment assessments of the U.S. military bases in Japan and is reluctant to revise the SOFA.

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