Photo/IllutrationHuge demonstrations were held in front of the Diet in June 1960 when the new Japan-U.S. Security Treaty was passed. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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A decades-long argument why Japanese law is not applied to the U.S. military under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) has been abandoned by the government.

The Foreign Ministry from Jan. 11 revised its website regarding the SOFA, which made reference to international law as being the basis for exempting the U.S. military from Japanese laws.

Since the 1970s, government officials have argued in the Diet that under general international law, the laws of a host nation are not applied to a foreign military based there.

The SOFA was approved by the Diet in 1960 along with the new Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which drew huge protests to the Diet building.

During Diet deliberations at that time, questions were raised about whether the SOFA would grant extraterritoriality to the U.S. military.

The then director-general of the Foreign Ministry's Treaties Bureau said that, in principle, Japanese laws would apply to the U.S. military based in Japan.

However, government officials later changed their position and said that Japanese laws would not apply, in principle. That was when the argument about international law was first raised by government officials to explain their reasoning.

The revised Foreign Ministry explanation about the SOFA now only says that, in general, a foreign military and its troops are exempt from having domestic laws applied in the course of conducting public duties, given the nature of the military, and unless specific regulations have been agreed to.

The argument regarding international law has long been criticized by experts and opposition parties as hindering the application of domestic laws against the U.S. military in Japan.

In 2014, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued an opinion paper regarding the SOFA and said no international law existed that could be used as rationale for exempting the U.S. military from application of Japanese laws and from the standpoint of territorial sovereignty, Japanese laws should be applied to the U.S. military.

An advisory panel to the U.S. government on the SOFA in 2015 released a report that said that the basic principle of international law is to apply the domestic laws of the host nation.

Opposition parties have criticized the government stance as reflecting the nature of the bilateral relationship when Japan was still occupied by the United States after World War II.

The Okinawa prefectural government has taken issue with the government argument that restrictions found in domestic laws do not apply to flights by the U.S. military.

Despite the change, Foreign Ministry officials are still insisting that they will maintain their position that international law exists that serves as a basis for exempting the U.S. military from Japanese laws.