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Gov't silence on sterilization damage to victims faces criticism from experts

People with intellectual disabilities attend an event to interact with local residents in Tokushima Prefecture, in western Japan, in late October 2018. (Mainichi/ Asako Kamihigashi/Part of the image has been edited)

TOKYO -- A compensation plan considered by the government and the ruling camp for the victims of forced sterilization operations faces criticism for its policy of not informing victims, including those with intellectual disabilities, of the records of their procedure under the now-defunct eugenic protection law (1948-1996).

The nondisclosure policy, which would even be applied to victims with surgery records, is designed to protect the victims' privacy, say its drafters. But caregivers of victims with intellectual disabilities and experts suspect that its hidden goal is to limit the number of people who come forward to receive the compensation.

The forced surgeries are now deemed cruel and inhuman, and the authorities are drafting a bill to pay reparations to the victims.

"It is wrong to ask victims of forced sterilization to apply for compensation," said a senior official at a home for people with intellectual disabilities in the western Japan prefecture of Tokushima in late October.

Fourteen of the facility's residents aged from their 60s to 80s were found in May to have undergone the operation under the defunct law, and one has since died. Records show that 10 more people who left the facility also underwent such surgeries. "Most of the people we have here are aging and have serious conditions. Many cannot even speak," the official added.

The official pointed out that the human rights violations under the eugenic protection law continued for nearly half a century, and the victims were left behind for more than 20 years, even after the law was abolished, precisely because the victims had trouble expressing themselves.

Under the current compensation plan considered by a government and ruling camp working group, about 25,000 people would be covered by the program, and they will be offered an apology.

The working group plans to see a bill on the issue pass the Diet during its ordinary session in 2019. But the victims would have to apply for compensation on their own. The government would not inform them of the operations, even the more than 4,600 people whose operation records have been found. This is because "some people do not want to remember the experience or disclose what they went through to others," the group reasoned.

The official at the Tokushima facility says some people are not aware of the damage done onto them. The 13 victims will have difficulty filing for compensation, and the whereabouts of the 10 other victims are unknown. "Some people don't even know what happened to them. Some victims will be left out unless the government finds out where they are and inform them (of what happened)."

Officials at similar facilities in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture, south of the capital, also expressed surprise at the policy of silence on the matter. "Not informing victims means not compensating them," said one official. "For people whose records exist, the government should make effort to offer redress by using the guardianship program or other relevant measures."

Prefectural officials who scoured their archives to find victims under the central government's instruction are concerned as well. A Gifu Prefectural Government official complained that the current plan would not make a good use of records discovered by prefectural officials there. "I hope the central government makes a compensation system that is beneficial to the people involved," they said.

Professor Tomomi Okikura of Taisho University, a specialist in welfare for people with disabilities, criticized the government plan. "An apology should be conveyed directly to each victim, and the policy of doing nothing when the sufferers have been identified is strange," she said. Victims have both the right to know and the right not to know, she added, but it's up to them which to choose. "It's not something that the government can decide on its own for them."

"The government should apologize to each victim for the damage caused. Not making use of the records (on eugenic surgeries) by using the victims' privacy as a cover can be seen as an attempt to cap the number of people receiving compensation," said lawyer Toshihiro Azuma, a Kumamoto Gakuen University professor who specializes in laws for people with disabilities. "There should be ways to protect individual privacy by making sure that such relevant information is simply not known to others."

(Japanese original by Asako Kamihigashi, Lifestyle News Department)

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