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Japanese peacekeepers in S. Sudan to don wearable cameras

Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces (GSDF) peacekeepers on "rush-and-rescue" missions in South Sudan will have small cameras mounted on their helmets, it has been learned.

The newest GSDF units to arrive in South Sudan will be permitted to perform these missions -- rushing to the aid of U.N. staff and others under attack in response to an urgent request -- starting on Dec. 12. This new brief expands the scope of when GSDF troops may use their weapons, and the helmet cameras are intended to record events and provide justification for the troops' actions.

GSDF members on previous U.N. peacekeeping missions in South Sudan had handheld video cameras. The new GSDF contingent will use wearable cameras, allowing the Japanese peacekeepers to keep both hands free and their weapons ready, as a senior GSDF official put it.

The GSDF are permitted to engage only in cases of self-defense and emergency situations, and wearable camera footage will help determine if opening fire was justifiable.

The Defense Ministry is obsessive about justifying GSDF members' actions because of the special characteristics of overseas missions. In South Sudan, they may encounter assailants mixed in with civilians. A senior SDF official says Japanese troops are trained to tell who is a civilian and not shoot them. However, the possibility of a shot fired at an assailant accidentally hitting a civilian nearby cannot be ruled out.

On the other hand, disciplinary regulations for SDF members abroad are fuzzy in some areas. In South Sudan, the U.N. and the South Sudan government have signed a status of forces agreement under which a country that has dispatched peacekeepers has jurisdiction over any crime committed there by its troops.

But if a Japanese peacekeeper erroneously kills a civilian, there are no rules to punish him for committing the crime of professional negligence resulting in injury or death under Japan's Penal Code, leaving him in legal limbo.

The newly enacted legislation contains clauses to penalize SDF members if many SDF members on overseas missions violate their superiors' orders. But it has no rule for punishing SDF members in case they harm civilians due to improper use of their weapons. The government does not see the need for such a clause because Japan has fully trained SDF members and cannot imagine them using their weapons illegally.

If an SDF member harms a civilian by accident, he can avoid criminal liability, though it is possible that the U.N. will pay compensation to the victim or the Defense Ministry may punish the SDF member. However, Kenji Isezaki, a professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies well versed in peacekeeping operations, says that "Japan cannot institute a court-martial under the postwar Constitution or bring military personnel to justice.''

The Defense Ministry explains that if SDF personnel use their weapons properly but still inflict harm on civilians, under Penal Code's Article 35 on reasonable force they are not legally liable. Because the use of weapons will become a focal point, camera footage of SDF members' activities will become proof of their justification.

A GSDF member says, ''Footage should be kept properly to prevent dispatched members from facing unfair liability.''

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