CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — With more than 99 percent of indictments leading to convictions, Japan has a reputation for being tough on crime. What that figure does not take into account, however, is that prosecutors are hesitant to bring cases to trial unless they can be assured a conviction.

The Ministry of Justice recently released figures for 2007 that showed only 43.6 percent of all criminal cases went to trial. And the figure is even lower — 13.3 percent — for criminal charges against personnel connected to the U.S. military.

The data have prompted the Japan Peace Committee and other anti-military groups to charge that Japan is giving up its sovereignty in most criminal cases involving people covered by the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.

"Yielding Japan’s jurisdiction is a grave violation of the rights of Japanese citizens," said Jun Chisaka, general secretary of the peace committee. "We fear that such practices will consequently contribute to foster further crimes by servicemembers."

The statistics on SOFA personnel brought to trial were not broken down by prefecture, but military officials on Okinawa say they handle all criminal cases waived by Japanese authorities with the same care as they would crimes allegedly committed on the bases.

For example, two high-profile alleged rape cases in 2008 that were not pursued by Okinawa prosecutors have resulted in proceedings in military courts. One case remains pending and the other resulted in a Marine being convicted of molesting a minor.

Nine criminal charges against SOFA personnel on Okinawa were followed up by the Air Force in 2007, said Maj. John S. Hutcheson, spokesman for the 18th Wing on Kadena Air Base.

"Leadership here takes these incidents very seriously," Hutcheson said. "When local authorities decline to prosecute a SOFA-status member, it’s not just going to be a free pass for them.

"We conduct our own investigations. And if the evidence suggests that a crime has been committed by an airman, the airman will face the consequences, either through the Uniform Code of Military Justice or through nonjudicial punishment."

Civilian employees and dependents also face disciplinary action, which can result in criminal charges being forwarded to U.S. District Courts or sanctions such as being barred from military bases or forcing dependents to return to the U.S.

Of the nine cases Japanese authorities referred to the 18th Wing in 2007:

One case involving the death of a child was referred to a District Court in Maryland. The case remains under investigation.Two dependent sons charged with larceny received action through the Kadena Disciplinary Action Program with punishment including community service, counseling and periods of restriction.Two airmen were convicted at courts-martial on drug and larceny charges and two other airmen charged with larceny and assault were given nonjudicial punishment that resulted in administrative discharges.A staff sergeant charged with larceny was given a letter of reprimand.A staff sergeant was investigated in an alleged rape, with no court-martial action being taken."Our purpose is clear," Hutcheson said. "Those who will not observe the law and conduct themselves as ambassadors here in Japan will be held accountable."

Marines in Japan also take all alleged offenses by servicemembers seriously, regardless of whether the cases are prosecuted by the Japanese, a Marine spokesman said.

"Although Japanese authorities sometimes decline to prosecute Marines for off-base incidents, the Marine’s actions could still be subject to action under the U.S. Military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is why the Marine Corps investigates each incident," said 2nd Lt. Kurt Stahl, a spokesman for Marine Corps Bases Japan.

"Punishments that may result from a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice can vary depending upon many factors and range from administrative action taken at the company level to trial by court martial," he wrote in response to a Stars and Stripes query.

He did not know how many of the cases turned over to the Marines by Japanese authorities eventually resulted in courts-martial or nonjudicial actions.

"Because of the number of units throughout III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Bases Japan that conduct unit-level administrative proceedings, the composite data is not readily available," he said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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