Opinion Calling for Review of the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States and Improvement to the Framework for Its Implementation in Relation to Quarantine, in Light of the Increase in COVID-19 Infection at U.S. Military Bases
March 18, 2022
Japan Federation of Bar Associations
The Japan Federation of Bar Association (hereinafter referred to as the “JFBA”) has produced its “Opinion Calling for Review of the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States and Improvement to the Framework for Its Implementation in Relation to Quarantine, in Light of the Increase in COVID-19 Infection at U.S. Military Bases” on March 18, 2022, and has submitted this to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, as well as the U.S. Embassy on March 28, 2022.
Summary of the Opinion
On February 20, 2014, the JFBA published its “Opinion with Respect to the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States” (hereinafter referred to as the “2014 Opinion”) in relation to the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and United States, which defines the status of the U.S. armed forces that are based in Japan pursuant to the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States, seeking a fundamental review in relation to seven matters including: (1) the provision and return of facilities and areas; (2) application of the laws and regulations of Japan to the U.S. armed forces, and control over installations; and (3) environmental problems.
However, neither the Japanese government nor the Japanese parliament has shown any indication to commence a fundamental review of the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States, whilst the damage caused by the presence of the U.S. military bases that were highlighted in the 2014 Opinion have become more severe due to the activities of the U.S. armed forces.
Moreover, whilst the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread on a global scale owing to the emergence of the Omicron variant, local authorities of areas surrounding U.S. military bases, such as those of Okinawa, are emphasizing that infections have spread from U.S. bases to the surrounding localities.
The fact of the matter is that U.S. military personnel who arrive to Japan on U.S. military aircrafts and vessels and enter Japan through U.S. military bases and facilities are exempt from Japanese quarantine rules. Furthermore, the U.S. armed forces have previously explained in a joint statement they issued with the Japanese government in July 2020 that they would adopt measures to combat COVID-19 that are consistent with those that are taken by the Japanese government and that they would impose a mandatory 14-day movement restriction on all of their personnel who enter Japan. However, since September 2021, they have not only exempted their personnel from the requirement to take a PCR test upon departure from the United States, but they have also reduced the movement restriction to be imposed following entry into Japan down to just 10 days and they opted not to impose any restriction on movement within their military bases.
The JFBA consider that, in order to address such inconsistencies, it is fundamentally necessary to apply the Japanese quarantine laws and regulations to the U.S. armed forces personnel and accordingly, the JFBA sets out its opinion on quarantine as follows.
Both governments of Japan and the United States should, particularly in relation to their response to infectious diseases, amend or abolish the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States as well as the relevant laws and regulations as follows, and take the necessary measures to improve the framework for their implementation.
- 1. A provision whereby the laws and regulations of Japan will be applicable to the servicepersons and civilian employees of the U.S. armed forces as well as their families in relation to quarantine matters should be added to the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States. Additionally, the Act on Special Provisions of the Quarantine Act in Regard to Foreign War Vessels, etc., which exempts U.S. military aircrafts and vessels from application of the Quarantine Act, should be abolished.
- 2. The Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States should be amended to clearly state that: the U.S. armed forces is, if an outbreak of a designated infectious disease takes place inside its bases, required to promptly notify the government of Japan and the relevant local authorities by providing the relevant information, such as the infection pathway and quarantine location in relation to all of its servicepersons and civilian employees, their family members, and its contractors, in respect of each affected base; and the government of Japan and the relevant local authorities have the right to demand disclosure of information as well as the right of entry and inspection in the event of such outbreak.