CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The governors of 14 prefectures that host U.S. bases in Japan petitioned the national government Tuesday to revise the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.

The move comes in the wake of recent high-profile arrests and criminal allegations involving servicemembers on Okinawa, including two reports of rape, and the scheduled courts-martial of four Marines at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni accused of gang-raping a Japanese woman in Hiroshima.

“We strongly urge that the government immediately begin reviewing the SOFA as being long called for in order to resolve the various problems stemming from the U.S. bases,” Kanagawa Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa said when he handed the petition to Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura in a meeting Tuesday, according to Japanese press accounts.

Matsuzawa, the head of the governor’s liaison council, said the matter was separate from the planned shifting of American military units and troops.

“The realignment of U.S. forces in Japan is about the hardware,” he said. “But revising the SOFA — the software part — will contribute significantly to reducing the burden on local residents, because currently the residents are most worried about incidents and accidents related to U.S. forces.”

“At the root of incidents and accidents involving SOFA members is the bilateral agreement,” the governors’ petition said. The governors contend that past calls for revising the agreement have fallen on deaf ears.

The governors requested that the review focus on provisions regarding criminal jurisdiction over SOFA-status personnel to “make it possible to promptly transfer physical custody of a suspect, as well as maintaining discipline over SOFA members.”

Jurisdiction, however, was not an issue in the alleged rape of a 14-year-old Okinawa girl by a Marine on Okinawa on Feb. 10 that sparked the recent controversy. Japanese prosecutors did not indict Staff Sgt. Tyrone Hadnott, who is now in military custody and faces a possible court-martial.

Hadnott was arrested by Okinawa police and remained in their custody prior to the girl’s family requesting the charge be dropped.

Still, the governors emphasized that case during Tuesday’s meeting.

“Although what urged us to make this petition was an incident committed by a servicemember against a schoolgirl on Okinawa, a series of incidents by servicemembers followed,” Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima said after the meeting.

“I believe that in the backs of the minds of those who commit such crimes is a sense that SOFA members are protected in Japan by the bilateral agreement,” he said. “As long as the provisions that favor SOFA members remain, we will not be able to curtail conflicts, troubles, incidents or accidents caused by SOFA members in the local communities.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now