Government wants revised SOFA for civilians

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The Government of Japan, under pressure from politicians and officials from Okinawa, expects to conclude an agreement with the U.S. to revise the Status of Forces Agreement concerning the civilian SOFA workers on U.S. bases.

Calls for a drastic review of the SOFA have grown louder following the rape and murder of a 20-yeat-old woman in May. A civilian SOFA status worker Kenneth Franklin Shizato is under arrest on suspicion of committing the crime.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to highlight the envisaged accord as a de facto revision to SOFA, although the provisions covering the uniformed military and their dependents would remain the same. However, observers doubt that the revision would satisfy government officials and people in Okinawa who have called for a drastic revision to all of the SOFA.

Prime Minister Abe suggested last week that he sees the need to define more strictly the scope of civilian workers at U.S. military bases in Japan covered by SOFA. “It is ridiculous that a person like the suspect in this rape and murder case is protected by SOFA,” Abe told reporters after attending the Okinawa Memorial Day Services in Itoman on Jun. 23rd.

Civilian U.S. citizens working for the U.S. armed forces in Japan and their dependents are covered by SOFA, but the murder suspect was not employed directly by the U.S. military. He was working for a company that is contracted to provide a service to the U.S. bases, and some U.S. officials have expressed an opinion that he should not have been given a SOFA status.

The envisaged change could give Japan greater jurisdiction over incidents involving American civilians in Japan. “If the United States agrees to the proposal, it would be very meaningful,” a Japanese government official said.

But Okinawa Prefectural Government officials want a more drastic revision to SOFA, stating “The understanding of U.S. servicemen that they are protected by SOFA can cause crimes.”

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