Section 4. The Hostage Problem


1. The Hostage Problem and Its Settlement

The Gulf Crisis triggered an unprecedented situation for Japan also from the viewpoint of protecting Japanese nationals. After invading Kuwait, Iraq not only prohibited some foreigners who had stayed in Kuwait and Iraq from leaving the country, which was a violation of international law, but also held and transferred some of them separately to strategically important facilities as "human shields." During the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Government of Japan had its Embassy in Kuwait provide shelter for 261 Japanese staying in Kuwait to ensure their safety. After the Embassy was surrounded by Iraqi forces, 245 Japanese, including those who were protected in the Japanese Embassy in Kuwait, moved to Baghdad. Among them, 213 were held by the Government of Iraq and many of them were dispersed to strategically important facilities. Also, out of those Japanese who had been in Iraq, 214 who had not left Iraq by August 14 were not allowed to leave the country.

Facing this situation, the Government of Japan made utmost efforts to have these Japanese nationals released and leave the country as soon as possible, in cooperation with the other countries who were in the same position. Japan strongly requested the Government of Iraq, through the Japanese Embassy, to release the remaining foreigners, including the Japanese, promptly and unconditionally and allow them to leave the country. Japan also worked on the Government of Iraq through the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). As for the Japanese held by Iraq after they moved to Baghdad, the Government of Japan extended assistance as much as possible to them through the Embassy, which included sending food, medicine and books and helping them exchange letters with their families. Japan also took various measures to ensure the security of the Japanese who were traveling for a short-period or those who lived in the region.

Meanwhile, various actions were taken by political parties and the private sector to appeal to the Government of Iraq for the release of the hostages.

As a result of the unified efforts made by the international community for the release of foreign hostages, including the adoption of Resolution 664 of the U.N. Security Council requesting Iraq to allow foreigners to leave the country, President Saddam Hussein announced on December 6 the release of all hostages. The Government of Japan dispatched three rescue airplanes to repatriate the Japanese in Iraq. (Including the other plane which had been sent earlier in September, when the women and children were released, the rescue planes count up to four.)


2. Lessons for Protecting the Japanese

The Gulf Crisis was extremely unusual on the account that the Government of Iraq, which was in a position to protect foreigners in the country, took them as hostages as a national policy. The Japanese Embassy in Iraq and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo maintained 24-hour working shifts for long-term support activities and made their utmost efforts to solve the problem.

At the time of the Gulf Crisis, suggestions were made from various points of view concerning the measures as well as the institutions to execute these measures by the Government to protect the Japanese nationals.

Firstly, a question was posed as to why the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait could not be predicted.

To this question, an inevitable answer is that it was close to impossible to predict this kind of situation of Iraq invading Kuwait with a surprise attack in August 1990. When the force was used by the multinational forces in January 1991, since the possibility was very strong, the Government of Japan was able to take measures, such as encouraging and recommending evacuation after sufficient explanations, to the Japanese who were remaining there, while the local Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo maintained close contact. In case of rescue operations in emergency situations, however, only in exceptional cases can the Government prepare itself as this. Yet the Government of Japan from now on will exert further efforts in collecting and analyzing information to ensure the security of the Japanese and will endeavor to improve communication systems to enable prompt communication.

Secondly, there were some arguments that Japan made a wrong decision to have kept the Japanese residents in the Japanese Embassy in Kuwait and to have recommended that they move to Baghdad.

However, since the security situation in Kuwait was tremendously aggravated after the Iraqi invasion, upon the request of some Japanese nationals, the Government of Japan kept the Japanese residents in the Embassy in Kuwait. Furthermore, Iraq announced that all functions of the Embassies in Kuwait would be suspended as of August 24, and Embassy buildings would be treated the same way as regular houses. Under these circumstances, the Japanese residents moved to Baghdad. It was probable that Iraq might have stopped supplying electricity and water and cut communications, if Iraq indeed were to ignore diplomatic privileges by violating international law. Furthermore, it was likely that they might have entered the Embassy and seized the Japanese, including infants, and there was no effective way to prevent this. The option taken by the Government came down to selecting the less risky choice among very limited choices under the sovereignty of an unfriendly state or a military occupation.

Thirdly, some argued that the Government should have put highest priority on protecting its own nationals and that the hostages were victims of the national interest or national policy. Some criticized the Government for not making sufficient efforts to rescue hostages, through such means as sending a special envoy.

The Government of Japan directly requested Iraq, through its Embassy, to allow Japanese officials to meet with the hostages, have a Japanese doctor check them, supply them with Japanese food and help them correspond with their families. It also urged Iraq through the U.N. Security Council, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to release the hostages and improve their treatment. However, since what the Government could do was extremely limited due to the strict restrictions imposed by Iraq, it could not in effect take sufficient measures from the viewpoint of the Japanese who were held as hostages in Iraq, or of their families and their employers who were concerned about their safety.

Essentially, the Iraqi detention of foreigners was an action which can be allowed from the standpoint of neither international law nor humanity. In that sense, the situation required the Government to keep a balance between the protection of individuals and the interest of the nation as a whole. Furthermore, the situation required Japan to take actions as a responsible member of the international community, bearing in mind not only the protection of its nationals, but also the interest of the international community as a whole. Thus, Japan alone was not allowed to have taken actions, such as making a concession with Iraq to rescue its own nationals by going against the obligation as a U.N. member or making a deal with Iraq, which might have discouraged global efforts toward the solution of the problem.

In addition to the abovementioned points, the Gulf Crisis left a number of lessons on how to protect the Japanese abroad. Learning from these lessons, the Government of Japan has to further endeavor to strengthen its institutions for protecting Japanese nationals in emergency situations.



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