Japan, U.S. sign pact limiting SOFA status for U.S. base workers

Japan, U.S. sign pact limiting SOFA status for U.S. base workers

TOKYO, Jan. 16 (PNA/Xinhua) — Japan and the United States signed a supplementary pact to the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) on Monday to clarify and narrow down the scope of U.S. military base workers protected by the 1960 pact.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy signed the pact months after a former U.S. Marine and base worker raped and murdered a 20-year-old local woman in April 2016, that evoked widespread criticism and anti-U.S. sentiment in the island prefecture of Okinawa.

According to the supplementary pact signed on Monday, the “civilian component” includes eight categories, such as civilians paid by the U.S. government to work for the U.S. armed forces in Japan, civilians working on U.S. armed forces-operated vessels and aircraft, and contractor employees who meet certain standards.

“We expect the supervision and management toward the civilian component of the U.S. military in Japan will be more strictly enforced and will prevent incidents and accidents involving them,” Kishida said before signing the pact.

SOFA, a bilateral pact that gives U.S. servicemen and civilian workers in Japan privileged legal status, has been widely criticized in Japan as being overly protective of U.S. base workers.

Under the 1960 agreement, the U.S. justice system, instead of Japanese courts, has the primary right of jurisdiction over crimes committed by U.S base service members and their “civil component” if the accused was “acting on official duty.”

The Japanese and U.S. governments decided in July 2016 to “clarify” and narrow down the scope of the “civilian component” in SOFA amid protests against crimes committed by U.S. servicemen and civilian workers as well as U.S. presence in Okinawa by local people.

The Okinawans, however, have been demanding the SOFA to be drastically reviewed, instead of just being adjusted in a very limited way as the government did, and the U.S. bases be relocated outside the prefecture.

The supplementary pact “won’t solve the problems caused by U.S. bases in Okinawa,” said Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, adding that the SOFA shall be thoroughly reviewed.

Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan with only 0.6 percent of the country’s total land mass. Criminal cases involving U.S. military personnel repeatedly happened in Okinawa. (PNA/Xinhua)

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