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Okinawa calls for a SOFA giving priority to Japanese laws

  • April 14, 2019
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 6:25 p.m.
  • English Press
  • ,

NAHA–Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki renewed a call for review of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, pointing to the precedence that U.S. allies in Europe receive, compared with the Japanese legal system.


“Japan should have its laws applied (to the SOFA), like European countries do,” Tamaki said at a news conference here on April 12, referring to the prefectural government’s report on the SOFA between the United States and NATO members.


But the Japanese government remains reluctant to request a review, calling the prefectural government’s report “meaningless.”


“(The SOFA) is an integrated system including various domestic laws,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono said at a news conference on April 12. “By taking some parts of the agreement for comparison with other countries is utterly meaningless.”


The SOFA stipulates the jurisdiction and legal status of U.S. military forces in their host countries.


The Okinawa report is based on the findings of prefectural officials sent since last year to Britain, Belgium, Germany and Italy, where U.S. forces are stationed as a NATO member, to study those countries’ SOFA with the United States.


The report said those countries “restrict (U.S. military’s) activities as they maintain sovereignty by applying their laws and regulations” when dealing with U.S. forces.


In Belgium, for example, when U.S. military aircraft plan to fly within Belgian air space, it must obtain permission from the Ministry of Defense. The U.S. military is also subject to stricter flight rules than that applied to the Belgian military in terms of altitudes and times.


In Britain, the Ministry of Defense can suspend or restrict the flight of U.S. military aircraft, and commanders from the Royal Air Force are permanently stationed in U.S. bases.


In Germany and Italy, U.S. forces need to gain prior approval for their drills conducted in those countries.


The report also noted that British police authorities can cordon off an accident site involving a U.S. military aircraft and investigate the accident. It mentioned an example in which U.S. service members were sent back to their bases as British authorities conducted their investigation at an accident site.


Such findings come in sharp contrast with Japan, where police do not have the right to conduct investigations in accidents involving U.S. military aircraft.


In addition, the report noted that the U.S. military does not observe flight restrictions agreed upon by Tokyo and Washington and that Japanese authorities do not have the right to inspect U.S. bases.


The prefectural government is hoping that the release of disparities between Japan and other U.S. allies would lead to an overhaul of the SOFA between Japan and the United States.


Prefectural officials plan to make a similar study of the SOFA between the United States and other Asian countries.


(This article was written by Ryuichi Yamashita and Ryo Kiyomina.)

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