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Gov't to apologize, compensate forced sterilization victims, stay mum on constitutionality

The Central Government Building No. 5 that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is seen in this file photo taken in the Kasumigaseki district of Tokyo on Oct. 14, 2015. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government will not say if forced sterilization operations under the now-defunct eugenic protection law were unconstitutional, but will apologize for the surgeries and compensate those who apply for payment and are recognized as surgery recipients, according to the ruling coalition working group discussing redress.

These features will be incorporated into a compensation bill that the ruling coalition parties aim to pass through the ordinary session of the Diet next year.

While the plaintiffs and their legal representatives currently embroiled in damages cases against the government in courts across Japan have called for the clarification of the constitutionality of the eugenics law, the working group has decided to avoid referencing the supreme law. This is because it could take years for a judicial decision to be handed down in those cases, explained people familiar with the discussions. Instead, the group is focusing on offering swift compensation, as many of the victims are aging, in drawing up the redress package.

The eugenic protection law (1948-1996) and the sterilization surgeries conducted under it on people deemed to have hereditary diseases, mental illnesses or various disabilities, are now recognized as inhumane and a violation of human rights. The ruling camp and a multi-partisan group of lawmakers, respectively, are compiling discussions of compensation measures, and their proposals will be merged into a single bill.

According to the redress guidelines presented by the ruling camp on Oct. 31, the government would introduce a law to express "deep remorse and apology for the substantial physical and mental suffering experienced by the individuals who underwent eugenic operations and other procedures." The law would make no mention of legal responsibility, and discussions will continue over who will express the remorse and make the apology.

Those who will be eligible to receive compensation are limited to the victims themselves, but their spouses or heirs will not be able to collect damages. The redress program would be designed to cover a wide range of victims, such as those without operation records, women whose wombs were removed and other people subject to measures that were not specified in the eugenic law, or people who were operated on following improper procedures. Bereaved families would receive compensation only if the victims pass away after applying for the damages.

Screening of applicants would be authorized by the minister of heath, labor and welfare based on the recommendation of a third-party expert panel to be established within the ministry. The government would try to inform potential applicants of the redress program through public relations activities, but would not notify specific victims who have been identified based on available records.

In contrast, the group of lawyers supporting the victims says the redress program should cover victims' souses and heirs, and victims with operation records should be directly informed of the government redress program. These issues are likely to be the focus of future discussions.

Meanwhile, the health ministry announced on Oct. 31 that new sterilization surgery records for 1,603 people had been uncovered from some 107,000 medical, welfare and other relevant facilities covered by a ministry survey. Officials said it was not yet clear if the new records overlap with those of 3,033 operation victims found earlier in local government archives.

(Japanese original by Miyuki Fujisawa and Hiroyuki Harada, Medical Welfare News Department)

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