2003 JAPAN LAW: STATUS OF FORCES AGREEMENT
Keywords: Treaty, Military, Status of Forces Agreement, Iraq, Self Defense Forces, Criminal Law, Coerced Confessions, Police Investigations
Copyright 2004. All rights reserved Attorney Roderick H. Seeman
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With Japan for the first time since the end of the war preparing to send out its armed forces without UN resolution backing, to Iraq of course, Japan was also for the first time sending outs its diplomats in advance to negotiate status of forces agreements with Kuwait and Qatar where it may have its troops stationed for a while.

With respect to its own long time status of forces agreement with the United States, many in Japan are calling for revisions, although it is unclear whether they have the pull. A group of Diet members from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party visited the US in the summer of 2003 to discuss revisions with their counterparts in the USA. There have been calls for revisions of the Status of Forces Agreement by the national association of prefectural governors, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Lower House of the Diet, the association of prefectural assembly speakers, and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. The changes sought include that Japanese authorities may take whatever action necessary under Japanese law at US military installations or other US controlled areas, US personnel and their pets may be quarantined by Japanese authorities, US and Japanese authorities will be conducting environmental studies jointly on the effects of military exercises and training, and victims of off-duty US servicemen being able to  seek court ordered damages to be payable by the Japanese government if the US servicemen are sent home.


At the same time the United States is also seeking revisions particularly with respect to the treatment of its soldiers handed over to Japanese criminal authorities in cases of serious crimes, primarily murder and rape. The United States was demanding greater protection of suspects rights. Specifically it wants the presence of defense counsel and U.S. provided interpreters during interrogation or at least to have some kind of representative of the US government present. As these rights are not provided for Japanese citizens in similar situations, the Japanese have proven unwilling to grant the demands. (For reference on U.S. concerns, please see the article under Criminal Law, ” COERCED CONFESSIONS AND POLICE INVESTIGATIONS”). The United States agreed to surrendering jurisdiction over its servicemen in these cases following the outcry over the rape of a 12 year old girl in Okinawa by 3 US soldiers in 1995. Now, however, there appears to be increasing reservations of the wisdom of this move. The US government is also demanding that in these kinds of cases  the US suspects should not be brought into the court room handcuffed and with waist restraining ropes.

A particularly troublesome case has arisen over another alleged rape case, again in Okinawa, involving a US Marine major and a Filipina woman. The US has been seeking the application of US laws. Even the Japanese attorneys representing the major have asked that he be given the protection available under US laws and  that he even  be transferred to a court in the US. The major claims that the woman filed the rape charges against him after he refused to have sex with her. The marine major has fears that he may not receive a fair trial and besides trying to get the case moved to the US sought to have the 3 Japanese judges removed from the case. Although he took it all the way to the Supreme Court of Japan, he failed. The Filipina who originally filed the case, in testimony in the trial stated that she did not intend to file criminal charges against the marine. That was contrary to the statements allegedly made during police questioning, which the prosecutors were attempting to enter into evidence. The woman at trial reportedly stated that the police and prosecutors pressured her to file the charges. Likewise in the trial when she was questioned on the conditions around the assault she said that it was too dark to see anything. The court appears to be leaning toward making its decision based not on the court testimony, but the contrary interrogation records of the prosecutors.

This is in direct contrast to a recent holding by the Sapporo District Court in 2003 involving a criminal prosecution of senior executives of the failed banking giant Hokkaido Takushoku Bank in 1997.  There Presiding Judge Katsumasa Koike refused to permit the use of the prosecutors records of interrogation of an executive. He stated

“The possibility prosecutors influenced him cannot be denied.”


The collapse of the Hokkaido Takushoku Bank in 1997 together with the collapse of Yamaichi Securities precipitated the financial crisis in Japan leading the Japanese government to make injections of public funds exceeding 20 trillion yen (nearly $200 billion) since then. In that criminal case the Japanese bank executives were acquitted.

This case is ominous. Testimony given freely in court is to be ignored by the judges, using instead testimony from prosecutors investigations, private, not open, no attorneys present, all susceptible to coercion, particularly on a lady, from an impoverished nation, fearing deportation.