Japanese politicians propose registry of off-base residents
March 29, 2008
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan’s three major opposition parties agreed Tuesday to push for several changes in the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.
The one that would affect most Americans would be a requirement for all SOFA personnel living off base to register with the local governments, according to Kantoku Teruya, one of the key opposition party politicians from Okinawa.
Teruya is a member of the Social Democratic Party, which is allied with the Democratic Party of Japan and the People’s New Party.
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.
U.S. Forces Japan spokesman Col. August Schalkham said the current SOFA protects the privacy of all persons connected with the U.S. military.
Servicemembers, Defense Department civilians and dependents “are exempt from Japanese laws and regulations on the registration and control of aliens,” the Air Force colonel said in a response to a Stripes’ query.
“The U.S. Government is prohibited from releasing personal information under the Privacy Act, and most military installations are limited in the types of information that is releasable due to operational security concerns for our military members,” he added.
When asked if USFJ would consider allowing registration of SOFA-status personnel living off base in Japan, Schalkham said USFJ “does not comment on subjects of a speculative nature.”
The mandatory registration of all SOFA-status personnel living outside the bases would place them in the same category as other foreigners living in Japan.
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.
Even Japanese citizens must register with the localities whenever they move.
Other changes opposition leaders seek include the immediate handover of SOFA personnel suspected of crimes, the full environmental cleanup of military property prior to return, and an evaluation of “the purpose, size and area and condition of the use of facilities and areas” used by the U.S. military every eight years.
Under the current SOFA, the military has jurisdiction over servicemembers suspected of crimes in the Japanese community until they are indicted, unless they are arrested off base by Japanese police. Exceptions are made for suspects in serious felonies, such as murder and rape.
The demand to change the SOFA came after several highly publicized alleged crimes last month by SOFA-status personnel.