SDF faces probe over sexual assault allegations

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Defense Ministry head office is seen in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 14, 2020.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Tuesday that he has ordered a special probe covering the entire Self-Defense Forces in response to sexual assault allegations.

The special defense inspection will be conducted after former Ground SDF member Rina Gonoi, 22, sought a third-party reinvestigation into alleged sexual assault committed by then colleagues last year.

“Harassment is a violation of basic human rights and must not happen,” Hamada told a news conference.

This is the first time in five years for the ministry to conduct a special defense inspection, in which its Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance investigates malpractice independently.

The last such inspection was carried out over a cover-up scandal related to daily reports of GSDF troops’ activities in South Sudan, where they were dispatched to join a U.N. peacekeeping mission.

Gonoi visited the Defense Ministry on Wednesday to submit a petition for the reinvestigation signed online by some 100,500 people. The petition was handed to Parliamentary Vice Defense Minister Jiro Kimura.

She also submitted the results of questionnaires in which 146 SDF troops and others claim to have been harassed, calling for a fact-finding probe.

In August last year, Gonoi took leave from work at a GSDF camp in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, after three male GSDF colleagues senior to her allegedly pressed the lower part of their bodies against her.

An SDF police unit has sent papers on the three to public prosecutors on suspicion of indecent assault.

In May this year, the Fukushima District Public Prosecutors Office decided not to prosecute them. Gonoi quit the GSDF the following month, challenged the decision and made public her allegations online.

On Tuesday, Hamada said he has dispatched prosecutors of the Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance to the GSDF Northeastern Army, which oversees the GSDF camp in Koriyama.

He also ordered an expert panel set up to review measures against harassment, all SDF members made aware of harassment-related consultation services and an emergency check conducted on how the SDF responded to consultation requests.