Status of Forces Agreement

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A Status of Forces Agreement ( SOFA ) is an agreement between a country and another nation that has its troops stationed there.

The US military has the largest foreign presence and is therefore responsible for most of the SOFAs. But other countries such as Great Britain , Germany , Russia or Australia have troops abroad. In the past the Soviet Union had SOFAs with almost all “ socialist brother states ”. The stay of foreign troops in Germany is regulated by the NATO troop statute.

The SOFA is used to clarify the conditions under which the troops stationed in the host country may behave. Purely military agreements are mostly clarified by other agreements. The Rules of Engagement , which regulate the practical implementation, emerge from the SOFA . A SOFA is more concerned with the legal status of people and property. This includes the import and export of goods, postal services, taxes and, above all, civil and criminal matters. This determines the amount the armed forces have to pay in the event of an accident in the host country or the law according to which criminal offenses are convicted. The example of the USA is to be used here: Normally, criminals are later always convicted in US courts under American law if they have committed crimes against compatriots or their orders. Other cases will be referred to the local authorities.

In many host countries, especially in those with a strong presence of foreign troops, a SOFA can quickly become a political issue. This is especially true when serious crimes such as murder , rape or robbery are committed, for which the penalties are different in both countries. Here is an example from South Korea : There two girls were run over by an American tank that came back from an exercise. The soldiers were found innocent in a US court, as the accident could not have been avoided. You were acquitted and transferred to the United States. This sparked nationwide protests in South Korea.

Most of the time, however, the crimes are not committed on duty, which is then often handed over to the local authorities. But here, too, there are still points of contention. In Japan , the US is holding its own soldiers until they are brought to justice. The authorities there have complained several times that this would make interrogation difficult for them. However, according to the US Army, the Japanese often use questionable interrogation methods and are more concerned with confessions than the truth. The US wants to protect its citizens from this. Local courts often differ from those in the soldiers' home countries, so the US prefers to set up military tribunals .

The presence of foreign troops on their own soil often provokes protests. When new SOFAs are being negotiated, calls for a complete withdrawal of troops are usually quickly made . Disputes about the customs of different countries can also arise. For example, in most of the host countries the USA does not consider a constitutional procedure as in the USA possible. Nor should Americans be expected to become victims of courts influenced by popular anger and to lose their rights under the Bill of Rights . However, host countries usually see this as an excuse and are reminded of the behavior of former colonial powers who protect their citizens despite criminal offenses. In South Korea, where such thoughts are widespread, it is often overlooked that their own troops stationed in Kyrgyzstan have complete immunity from local authorities, far more than in the SOFA with the USA.

Therefore, the SOFA evoke two-part opinions. Many Americans consider the system important in interstate relations, while many in host countries consider it to be a protection for foreign soldiers.


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