We criticize Kishida administration for putting U.S. military before citizens’ lives and call for revision of unjust Japan-U.S. SOFA that led to spread of COVID-19 spread

January 11, 2022
Tsuyoshi Masuda
Japan Federation of Democratic Medical Institutions

Spreading of COVID-19 infections in U.S. military bases across Japan has become a serious problem as it has triggered community transmission of the virus around the bases.

In Okinawa Prefecture, 162 new cases were confirmed on January 6 in U.S. bases, bringing the total number to 1,150 since a cluster was confirmed at U.S. Camp Hansen on December 17 last year. In Yamaguchi Prefecture, of 325 new cases confirmed in two weeks until January 5, 230 were in Iwakuni City hosting a U.S. base, and the infections have spread to neighboring Hiroshima Prefecture. Similar spreading has been seen in U.S. bases in Sasebo City in Nagasaki Prefecture, Yokota City in Tokyo, Yokosuka City in Kanagawa Prefecture, and Misawa City in Aomori Prefecture.

This is primarily caused by the unfair Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), under which Japanese domestic laws, including the quarantine law, do not apply to the U.S. forces in Japan, creating a major loophole in the government’s border control measures. It was also revealed that U.S. military personnel coming to Japan were exempted from PCR inspections prior to their departure to Japan.

The council of governors representing prefectures that host U.S. bases submitted an urgent request to the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister at the end of last year, calling for an investigation into the cause of and measures against the large-scale infections that occurred in U.S. bases. It also requested the national government to take steps for U.S. military personnel entering Japan that are consistent with the board protection measures.

Despite this, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi failed to request the U.S. to release details of the spread of the infections among military personnel when he only called for the introduction of curfew restrictions in his telephone meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It was also revealed that the U.S. military plans to continuously allow its personnel to enter and leave Japan through its bases without being subjected to Japan’s quarantine inspection after January.

Behind the series of events lies the Japan-U.S. SOFA, which gives priority to the U.S. military’s exclusive rights over Japan’s domestic law. The number of local assemblies which approved a statement calling for a thorough revision of the SOFA has increased to 9 prefectures and 221 cities, towns, and villages (12.9%).

The Japan Federation of Democratic Medical Institutions demands that the Japanese government release detailed information of infected U.S. military personnel to local communities, request the U.S. to apply the same measures to its military personnel as to others entering Japan, and revise the SOFA thoroughly and promptly.