Japanese legislator says U.S. hasn't paid its share of Kadena noise settlement
NAHA, Okinawa — An Okinawan member of Japan’s Diet says the United States has reneged on paying its share of $9.2 million in compensation for injuries suffered by neighbors of Kadena Air Base from excessive jet aircraft noise.
Kantoku Teruya, a Social Democratic Party member of the House of Representatives, recently filed a query with the national government, asking why the United States failed to pay 75 percent of the May 1998 judgment by the Fukuoka High Court in Naha.
“Tokyo said that a payment request has already been sent to the U.S. government, but they were vague about when they sent it,” said Teruya. “Under Article 18 of the status of forces agreement, [the] U.S. government is responsible for 75 percent of the compensation to cover damages which [the] U.S. is solely responsible for, while the Japanese government undertakes the rest.
“There is no way for us to know if the U.S. government is flatly declining to pay any portion of the damages,” he said. “We do not know if they believe they are not responsible” and have refused to pay.
He characterized the national government as reluctant to discuss the issue and said it makes him wonder if Japan is a reluctant junior partner in the alliance.
“The Japanese government said that negotiations are still under way, but it makes me wonder if they are serious enough in collecting the payment,” Teruya said. “It has been six years. Is Tokyo saying that the negotiations would go on forever?”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would not discuss specifics of any negotiations. “Details of the discussions between the governments are not releasable,” she said. “That includes the amount and the date Japanese government sent bills to U.S. government.
“Because the U.S. and Japanese governments have different stances concerning the payment of compensation stipulated under the status of forces agreement, talks are still under way, and the issue is yet to be settled,” she said.
A U.S. Forces Japan spokesman said he was unaware of the dispute.
“The SOFA does not specifically address noise lawsuits,” 2nd Lt. Benjamin Sakrisson, USFJ spokesman, said Monday in response to a query. “We are not aware of any discussion with the government of Japan about this issue.”
Sakrisson said aircraft noise is a part of life for people living on or near air bases.
“To assist in the defense of Japan, the U.S. uses bases provided by the government of Japan for that military purpose,” he said. “The noise of aircraft flights is a natural and expected result of U.S. military training and operations providing for the defense of Japan.”
However, the Fukuoka High Court ruled that noise from Kadena was excessive; the court awarded the equivalent of $13 million to 867 residents who complained of various medical problems caused by the noise pollution.
The 1998 ruling came at the end of 16 years of litigation. Complicating matters was the court’s ruling that U.S. military operations were outside the jurisdiction of the Japanese judicial system. It dismissed a demand to halt all night flights.
Still, Teruya thinks the United States should pay its share of the compensation.
“Voices demanding changes in SOFA are growing among the Japanese people, not only on Okinawa but on the mainland as well, including business groups,” he said.
“Under these circumstances, if the U.S. government does not follow the current agreement, more people will demand changes in the unfair arrangements in the agreement.”
He said he was upset at the attitude of Tokyo officials.
“The government is refusing to release any details, including the date when it sent the bill to the U.S. side — or even the amount,” Teruya said. “They claim that releasing such information would harm trustful relations between Japan and the United States.
“I do not argue the importance of the bilateral relations,” he said. “However, such a relation as the government portrays is not based on an equal partnership.”