Japan protests sex assault cases involving US military on Okinawa and their delayed disclosure

Japan protests sex assault cases involving US military on Okinawa and their delayed disclosure

TOKYO — The Japanese government protested at the US embassy in Tokyo on Friday over at least two cases of sexual abuse involving US soldiers on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. These cases were only recently made public.

In one case, an Air Force member is accused of assaulting a 16-year-old girl in December, while the other, which occurred in May, involves a Marine accused of assaulting a 21-year-old woman .


The case surrounding the attack on the teenager reminds many Okinawans of the high-profile rape of a 12-year-old girl in 1995 by three US soldiers, which sparked mass protests against the large presence of US troops on Okinawa. It led to an agreement between Tokyo and Washington in 1996 on the closure of a major US air base, although the plan is delayed due to protests at the location designated for relocation to another part of the island.

There are approximately 50,000 US troops deployed in Japan under a bilateral security treaty, about half of them on Okinawa, whose strategic role is seen as increasingly important to the Japan-US military alliance in light of rising tensions with China. The Japanese military’s southwest shift also focuses heavily on Okinawa and nearby islands.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters Friday that it was “extremely regrettable” that the two alleged sexual assaults occurred within a few months. Japan “takes it seriously” and Vice Foreign Minister Masataka Okano expressed his regrets to U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, and requested disciplinary and preventive measures, Hayashi said.

“I believe the American side is also taking this matter seriously,” Hayashi said. “Criminal cases and accidents by US military personnel cause great fear among locals, and they should never have happened in the first place.”

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The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo declined to confirm details of the meeting between Emanuel and Okano or how the ambassador responded, citing diplomatic rules.

Hayashi said Japanese prosecutors in Naha, the capital of Okinawa, filed charges of nonconsensual sex and assault against the Marine on June 17, which were not announced until Friday. Both suspects have been processed by Japanese authorities.

The Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office declined to confirm the charges in the two cases by telephone with anyone who is not a member of the local press club. Okinawa Prefecture police said the two cases were never made public due to the privacy of the victims.

Okinawan residents and the island’s governor, Denny Tamaki, have long complained about accidents and crime at U.S. military bases, expressing anger over perceived criminality and lack of transparency.

Tamaki, who opposes the large U.S. troop presence on Okinawa, said he was “speechless and outraged.” He stressed the need to “reconstruct” the communications system in case of crimes and accidents involving U.S. military personnel.

“I am deeply concerned about the seriousness of this allegation and regret the fear it has caused,” said Brig. Gen. Nicholas Evans, commander of the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, who visited the Okinawa prefectural government with several U.S. officials, on Thursday, though he stopped short of offering an apology.

He promised that the US military will fully cooperate with the investigation by local authorities and the courts.

Okinawa Vice Governor Takekuni Ikeda told Evans and other officials that the alleged attacks were serious human rights violations against women. “We find them absolutely inexcusable and we are outraged,” he said.

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Ikeda also protested the delayed notification of the criminal cases, saying it caused unrest among residents of the U.S. bases. He said the prefecture was only informed of the December case this week, when the suspect was charged in March, and only after an investigation by Japan’s Foreign Ministry.