03 September 2014

Thousands of incidents involving U.S. military cost Japan 380 million yen in compensation

Staff Writer

U.S. military personnel and civilian employees were involved in nearly 10,000 incidents or accidents in Japan over a 10-year period through fiscal 2013, according to statistics compiled by the Defense Ministry and the Okinawa prefectural government.

The cases cost Japanese taxpayers at least 380 million yen ($3.7 million) in compensation and damage payments, according to the figures analyzed by The Asahi Shimbun on Aug. 12.

There were 9,962 cases involving U.S. personnel during the time frame, 2,138 of which were subject to compensation claims against the Japanese government, even if the sole responsibility lay with U.S. personnel, officials said. The remaining 7,824 cases occurred during off-duty hours.

The reason for the payments is that the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) stipulates that the Japanese government has to shoulder 25 percent of the compensation costs for incidents or accidents that occur during on-duty hours, such as those involving military aircraft involved in a crash, traffic accidents, thefts and sex crimes, even if Japan is not responsible.

Also, the SOFA stipulates that if both the United States and Japan are responsible, the Japanese government has to pay 50 percent of the cost.

One lawyer involved in lawsuits involving the U.S. military in Okinawa questioned the fairness of the payments.

“It is not reasonable that taxes paid by the Japanese people are used (as part of the compensation) for illegal acts committed during on-duty hours, for which the United States is totally responsible,” said the lawyer, Tsutomu Arakaki. “The United States should shoulder all the compensation.”

According to the statistics, about 48 percent of the nearly 10,000 cases took place in Okinawa Prefecture, which hosts more than 70 percent of the U.S. military facilities in Japan. Many people in the island prefecture are asking for a revision to the SOFA.

In total, about 2.03 billion yen was paid in compensation to claimants who suffered damages during the 10-year period. Of that amount, 1.5 billion yen was for the 2,138 incidents or accidents that occurred during on-duty hours, including the 380 million yen paid by the Japanese government.

In the crash of a U.S. military helicopter that occurred on the campus of Okinawa International University in Ginowan on Aug. 13, 2004, it was determined the accident was the sole responsibility of the United States. However, the Japanese government shouldered 25 percent of about 270 million yen in compensation paid out over the crash.

As for incidents or accidents involving U.S. military personnel that occur during off-duty hours, the SOFA has no stipulations on the percentage of compensation that Japan is responsible for.