US military distancing from rape suspect worries Okinawa

NAHA–US military refusal to accept protest by Okinawa Prefecture officials over alleged sexual assault of Japanese woman by civilian employee of a US government agency puts even more strain on ties in Japan’s southernmost prefecture.

The dispute stems from an incident in July involving a 25-year-old civilian worker who was arrested on suspicion of attempted forced sex. Police suspect he attempted to sexually assault a Japanese woman in the central part of the main island of Okinawa in April.

On August 19, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly unanimously adopted a protest resolution and a written opinion calling on the governments of Japan and the United States to work to prevent the repetition of an act “which violated human dignity.” .

According to Okinawa Prefecture officials, after the man’s arrest, an attempt was made to contact the U.S. military to lodge a protest and demand that efforts be made to prevent a recurrence.

But the US military said it could not accept the protest because the individual arrested was not under its direct direction. He suggested that the Okinawa Prefecture government try to submit the protest to the organization that hired the individual, which is affiliated with the Pentagon.

The man was employed by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), which sells food and other supplies to U.S. military personnel and their families. According to the organization’s website, it is governed by a board of directors that reports to the secretaries of the United States Army and Air Force.

Under the Japan-United States Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the United States is granted the “primary right” to jurisdiction over United States military personnel and United States civilian workers at bases. Americans who have been involved in crimes or accidents while on duty.

But the definition of a civilian worker was ambiguous, and a clarification was made following an incident in 2016 in Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture, in which a local woman was murdered by a civilian worker.

Under the new definition agreed to by the two governments, eight categories of civilian workers have been clarified, including those hired by companies under contract with the US military as well as those hired by organizations that provide social services to military personnel. American.

The protest resolution passed by the Okinawa prefectural assembly was due in large part to the refusal of the US military to accept the initial protest. The assembly intends to submit the resolution to AAFES.

A senior prefecture government official said he found it inappropriate for a civilian worker protected by SOFA not to be under the jurisdiction of any segment of the US military.

But another official questioned the effect of the protest, as repeated demands on the US military to prevent the recurrence of various incidents produced almost no effect.

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