<COVID-19>Statement Calling to Provide for the Application of the Quarantine Act to the U.S. Armed Forces in Japan in the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement and Take Emergency Measures to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Infection from the U.S. Military Bases in Japan
First reported at the end of 2019 and having swept across the globe in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic also struck the premises of the U.S. military bases in Japan. Not only did the outbreaks at the U.S. bases cause the neighboring communities great concern, but they also impaired the administrative services provided by the municipalities in which the bases are located.
As 2022 started and the highly contagious Omicron variant began to spread, dwarfing the number of recorded cases of the Delta variant, large clusters of infections among the U.S. military personnel, etc. developed at Camp Hansen in Okinawa Prefecture and the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Subsequently, as if synchronizing with the outbreaks of large clusters, a surge of cases occurred among the general public living in Okinawa, Yamaguchi and its adjoining prefecture Hiroshima (a phenomenon coined “oozing transmission”). The Okinawa Prefectural Government, on the basis of the findings from the genetic sequencing of cases performed by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, traced the origin of the spread among Okinawa citizens and concluded that it had started at the U.S. military bases. The Japanese government, at first, did not voice its view that the domestic spread originated from the U.S. bases, but it admitted later the possibility of the surge stemming from the U.S. military facilities.
Additionally, in the wake of the development of Omicron clusters at the U.S. military bases, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs inquired of the U.S. side about the status of COVID-19 testing for the U.S. military personnel, etc. to find out that the U.S. armed forces had unilaterally discontinued the pre-departure COVID-19 testing without informing Japanese authorities.
Article 9 of the Agreement under Article VI of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States of America, regarding Facilities and Areas and the Status of United States Armed Forces in Japan (the “U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement”) stipulates that U.S. military personnel, etc. are exempt from Japanese laws and regulations on immigration control, whereas, however, no express provision is set out for quarantine in the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement. In the first place, immigration control and quarantine are discrete legal systems having distinct thrust and purposes. In other words, if no express provision is in place for quarantine—which is a crucial state function to protect the health and safety of nationals—the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement has no ground on which the exemption from the Japanese quarantine procedures applied to the U.S. military personnel, etc. is predicated.
Nevertheless, in terms of quarantine, the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee has agreed on multiple occasions on an arrangement whereby quarantining the U.S. military personnel, etc. is in principle at the discretion of the U.S. side. Besides, the “Act on Special Provisions of the Quarantine Act in Regard to Foreign War Vessels, etc.”, which is a Japanese domestic law, provides for the exemption of the application of many provisions of the Quarantine Act, and hence Japan can hardly intervene in quarantine for the U.S. military personnel, etc. Thus, as is the case with other infections, the U.S. armed forces are not in fact required to follow the Japanese quarantine procedures for COVID-19 as well.
Moreover, as regards the information about the status of COVID-19 cases of U.S. military personnel, etc., despite the agreement made by the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee for the sharing of information between Japan and the U.S., no measures are available for the relevant municipalities and the surrounding communities to have access to such information.
In contrast, in other countries, Article 54(1) of the NATO Status of Forces Agreement Supplementary Agreement signed for Germany provides that the German regulations and procedures for the prevention and control of infectious diseases shall apply to a force and a civilian component. For Australia as well, Article 13 of the U.S.-Australia Status of Forces Agreement provides for the application of Australian quarantine laws to the U.S. personnel.
Nonetheless, under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, the quarantine for the U.S. military personnel, etc. is subject to the U.S. military’s own quarantine procedures in principle as outlined above, which has resulted in a grave situation where the fast spread of COVID-19 cases expanding beyond the U.S. military bases and reaching surrounding communities has occurred. Given that quarantine is a state function of critical importance, an explicit provision comparable to the German Supplementary Agreement and the U.S.-Australia Status of Forces Agreement should be set out in the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement so that the quarantine of the U.S. military personnel, etc. will abide entirely by the Japanese domestic statutes. Concurrently, the statute that effectuates exempting the U.S. vessels and aircraft from the application of the Quarantine Act (Act on Special Provisions of the Quarantine Act in Regard to Foreign War Vessels, etc.) should be abolished. Additionally, in the event that a designated infectious disease occurs at a U.S. military base, the information about the event should immediately be disclosed and, that the Japanese government and the relevant municipalities have a right to request disclosure of information and carry out on-site inspections, should be set down in the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.
Combined with the above, as an emergency measure to prevent a further spread of the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases seemingly deriving from the U.S. military bases, it is urged that the Japanese government and the U.S. armed forces establish a stringent system, under a close reciprocal alliance, to enforce quarantine and testing for the U.S. military personnel, etc. who stay at or have access to the U.S military bases in Japan, and that individuals who are or may be contracted with COVID-19 be placed under thorough control.
February 4, 2022
President, Japan Federation of Bar Associations