Japanese officials propose SOFA revisions
By DAVID ALLEN AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 16, 2008
CHATAN, Okinawa — If you live off base in Japan, the country’s leading opposition parties want to know who you are and where you live.
If they get their way, all Americans living outside the base gates under the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement would have to file as aliens at town and city offices.
The Democratic Party of Japan drew up a proposal to revise the SOFA in coordination with the Social Democratic Party and People’s New Party. It stems from outrage over an alleged rape on Okinawa on Feb. 10 involving a 38-year-old Marine staff sergeant and a 14-year-old Okinawa girl, party officials said Friday.
The Marine, Tyrone Hadnott, lived alone in a single home in Kitanakagusuku, near Okinawa City. He allegedly raped the girl inside his van parked near a seaside park in Chatan.
However, Japanese prosecutors declined to seek an indictment when the girl’s family asked that the charge be dropped. Hadnott was turned over to military authorities, who are considering charging him under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The opposition parties plan to announce details of their proposal this week, officials said.
They also are calling for the immediate turnover to Japanese custody of all SOFA-status personnel charged with crimes. Under the current SOFA, the Japanese police retain custody of persons they arrest, but the military retains custody prior to indictment in a Japanese court if the suspect is detained by the military. There is a gentlemen’s agreement for the early turnover of servicemembers charged with major felonies.
Custody was not an issue in the Hadnott case since he was arrested by Japanese police.
According to Japan’s Ministry of Defense, there are 92,491 SOFA-status personnel living in Japan, 47,088 on the mainland and 45,403 on Okinawa. Of that number, 21,885 people live off base, 11,566 in mainland communities and 10,319 on Okinawa.
However, the number and details — where the Americans live and how many people live in each off-base home — are not shared with the local governments.
Under the current Alien Registration Law, all foreigners must be registered with the city, town or village in which their residence is located within 90 days of arriving in Japan. They must submit an application for alien registration, a passport and two passport-size photographs. SOFA-status personnel are exempt from the law.
“Our attempt is to add what is missing in the bilateral agreement,” said Diet member Mikio Shimoji of Okinawa, one of the opposition politicians who is seeking revision of the SOFA.
However, he believes the residency issue is not as serious a problem as the health issue caused by aircraft noise.
“Incidents involving servicemembers receive a lot of publicity — but it’s just the symbol of the military-related problems,” he said.
Shimoji said he’d like to have all SOFA-status personnel with families live in the surrounding communities, so they can appreciate the culture, and all single servicemembers live on the bases.
“People want to know who their neighbors are and where they work,” he said. “Living and becoming part of the local community will help to deepen (mutual) understanding and friendship … which will subsequently help to prevent problems and offenses from happening.”
He believes it is the single SOFA personnel who cause the problems.
Other officials believe registering off-base residents is not enough.
“What we really need is information about them, including the branch of the service he or she belongs to,” said Takashi Teruya, chief of Okinawa City’s Military Affairs Office. “We frequently receive complaints from our residents concerning problems with their American neighbors over such issues as trash, illegal parking or noise.
“With no information on the (SOFA) residents, we don’t know where to bring the issue to settle it,” he said. “We know that the majority of Americans in our communities are good people, but there are always some, small as the number may be, who create problems. … It is important to solve little problems while they are still small.”
Chatan Mayor Masaharu Noguni said residency registration for SOFA personnel would “ease local residents’ anxiety.”
“Regardless of being an American, Japanese or any other nationality, it is very important to assimilate into the community to maintain good term with neighbors,” he said. “It will be nice if Americans living off base joined the local neighborhood associations to be part of the community.”