Japan SOFA talks focus on interrogations
July 5, 2003
U.S. and Japanese officials Thursday wrapped up two days of “cordial and frank” talks on whether U.S. servicemembers accused of crimes should be allowed to have someone present being when questioned by Japanese police.
The talks follow three cases in which U.S. personnel have been jailed on Okinawa after being accused of rape or attempted rape.
Japan is pressing the United States to relinquish custody of military personnel accused of rape, murder and other serious crimes once authorities have issued warrants for their arrest.
But U.S. officials say they want to be assured that, if a suspect is handed over, they be given the right to be present during interrogation and request an interpreter.
No action has been taken, and the talks resume July 11 in Washington, D.C.
“We don’t have many differences of opinion,” a spokeswoman who requested she be identified only as a U.S. official familiar with the meetings said Thursday, calling the negotiations “a discussion of a very narrow portion of the status of forces agreement involving criminal jurisdiction.”
The agreement addresses the rights of U.S. servicemembers and civilian Department of Defense employees in Japan.
The U.S. official said the talks center on the rights of SOFA personnel in Japanese police custody.
“We have been requesting on a case- by-case basis the right to provide an observer and interpreter for SOFA personnel during the interrogation process,” she said. “Now, we want to make it standard procedure in all cases.”
In the Japanese judicial system, police are allowed to detain and interrogate suspects without outside observers present.
U.S. critics of the system say it violates rights a suspect would possess in the American judicial system.
“This is nothing really new. What we have now is a difference of interpretation of the SOFA concerning the access question,” the spokeswoman said. “We want to have a U.S. government representative present during the interrogation or any other time requested.” The United States also wants statements elicited without a U.S. observer or interpreter present to be inadmissable during a trial, she added.
The two sides hope to have the matter resolved within 45 days, officials said previously.
“The talks have been very cordial, frank and constructive,” the spokeswoman said. “As Ambassador Baker has said, the U.S.-Japanese relationship has never been better.” Howard Baker is the U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Hatsuhisa Takashima, director-general for press and public relations for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the talks went well. They “were focused on the issue of whether U.S. observers would be allowed to be present during questioning.”
— Chiyomi Sumida and the Associated Press contributed to this report.