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What is the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee?

I have blogged about crimes committed by US military personnel and Japan’s knee-jerk reaction in dealing with the United States. The latest incident involves a 22-year old sailor, Olatunbosun Ugbogu, that alledgedly killed a Japanese taxi driver. The fact that the Nigerian national was not spotted reentering and leaving the base is likely to call into question the base’s security system.  Before I get to much into the discussion, there are a few terms that the reader must understand: the Japan-US Joint Committee and the Status of Forces Agreement: (Source:  MAINICHI (Page 3) (Abridged slightly), April 8, 2008) 

Question: When a U.S. deserter from Yokosuka Naval Base was arrested on murder and robbery charges, newspapers reported that he was handed over based on a concurrence of the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee. What does the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee do?


Answer: It serves as a venue for the governments of Japan and the United States to discuss such matters as the use of bases by U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) and the legal status of U.S. service members. It is based on the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which was concluded based on the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. In the latest case, the U.S. sailor was in the custody of the U.S. military, so the Japanese side sought his handover through the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee, and the U.S. side agreed to do so.


Q: Difficult. What is the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)?


A: It is a treaty specifying arrangements requiring Japan to provide USFJ with facilities and areas and criminal procedures against U.S. service members suspected to have committed crimes. Under the SOFA, the United States is not required to hand over service members before indictment. But a schoolgirl rape incident in Okinawa in 1995 resulted in strong calls in Japan for revision of the SOFA. Given the situation, the U.S. side has decided to hand over even before indictment its service members who are suspected to have committed heinous crimes, such as murder and rape. Since 1995, Japan has made five pre-indictment handover requests through the Joint Committee. Of them, the U.S. side agreed to do so in five cases.


Q: Who are the members of the Joint Committee?


A: The Japanese side is led by the North American Affairs Bureau chief of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the U.S. side by the USFJ deputy commander. Other Japanese members are mostly senior officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry. But when, for instance, livestock is affected by a U.S. military drill, senior Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry officials join the committee, and when contamination of soil on a U.S. base becomes a problem, senior Environment Ministry officials do the same. The members meet about twice a month either at a MOFA conference room or the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo’s Minami-azabu in turn.


Q: Is what is determined there made public?


A: Agreements on return of land and other matters are posted in the Defense Ministry’s website, but sensitive military information, such as the sites of U.S. military communications facilities, is not made public. Because vital agreements connected to the Japan-U.S. security setup are reached by this framework, some people call the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee as the “security mafia.”

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