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HOME  > Past issues  > 2011 November 23 - 29  > Urged by people Japan finally to take US civilian employees to court
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2011 November 23 - 29 TOP3 [US FORCES]

Urged by people Japan finally to take US civilian employees to court

November 25, 2011
Foreign Minister Genba Koichiro on November 24 announced that the Japanese and the U.S. governments reached an agreement enabling Japan to exercise jurisdiction over some crimes and accidents committed in Japan by “on duty” U.S. military civilian employees.

In the bilateral agreement, when U.S. military civilian employees on official duty cause crimes and accidents and the U.S. authorities do not prosecute them, the Japanese government can request the United States to approve of Japan’s using its judicial power. The agreement requires the U.S. government to give favorable consideration to Japan’s request if it involves Japanese fatalities or life-threatening injuries. However, there is no guarantee of U.S. approval. Furthermore, there is no change in the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) provision stipulating that the U.S. authorities have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over offenses committed by “on duty” U.S. servicemen and military civilian employees.

Due to the provision, Japan has had to abandon criminal cases by U.S. servicemen and civilian personnel while on duty if the U.S. authorities issue an “on duty” certificate.

Meanwhile, since the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) was enacted in the U.S. in 2000, many civilians working at U.S. bases in Japan have escaped punishment for their crimes both in Japan and at home.

Under the MEJA, persons who are employed by U.S. forces abroad may be prosecuted in the U.S. mainland for any offense that would be punishable by imprisonment for more than one year if committed within U.S. territory. However, a practical application of the law is difficult because calling witnesses to the United States from abroad is costly. As a result, there have been numerous cases where civilian personnel committing crimes were not brought to justice either in the U.S. or in Japan.

The agreement was prompted by the public furor over an incident in which a 19-year-old Okinawan boy, Yogi Koki, was killed in a road accident by an “on duty” civilian employee in Okinawa City in January. The civilian employee only received punishment of a five-year driving ban by the U.S. military.

Japanese Communist Party Dietmember Inoue Satoshi raised questions about the incident in the Diet. Inoue said, “In the agreement, crimes in which Japan can exercise its jurisdiction are extremely limited and the exercise of judicial power depends on a “favorable consideration” by the United States. This isn’t by any means a fundamental resolution of the issue.”

A representative of a group supporting Yogi’s bereaved family said, “Unless the SOFA is revised, we will not be able to protect our rights and lives. The agreement is just a first step in the right direction.”
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