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Eugenics law redress policy proposal met with criticism

A meeting of the ruling party working team on the now-defunct eugenic protection law is held at the Second Members' Office Building of the House of Representatives in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Oct. 31, 2018. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

A ruling coalition working team deliberating reparation measures for those who were forced to undergo sterilization surgery under the now-defunct eugenic protection law (1948-1996) has come up with a basic policy for the bill, but its contents have proven to be far from what victims, their families, and organizations supporting victims are seeking.

Demands for the working team, which drew up its basic outline on Oct. 31, included "listen more to the views and ideas of the victims themselves, and use your imagination," and "the type and degree of disabilities are diverse, and well-thought-out procedures appropriate to each are necessary."

Upon hearing about the working team's plan to establish a certification committee to confirm victimization under the eugenics law within the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Nobukatsu Onodera, an attorney for plaintiffs in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido suing the government for compensation for forcing them to undergo sterilization surgery under the eugenics law, voiced his mistrust of the ministry.

"The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry was the perpetrator (of the sterilizations), which concerns me when it comes to its capacity to be fair (in certifying victims)," Onodera said. "In the cases of Minamata disease and atomic bomb-related diseases, large numbers of people were written off by panels set up under administrative bodies."

Instead of a certification body under the health ministry's jurisdiction, Onodera is demanding that a group completely independent from any administrative body be newly established for the task of determining whether someone is a victim of the government's eugenic policies of the past. Furthermore, he disagrees with the working team's view that sterilization surgeries were the only human rights violations committed by the government under the eugenics law. Some were forced to undergo both sterilizations and abortions against their will, both of which, Onodera argues, are human rights violations, and therefore should constitute eligibility for compensation.

Meanwhile, Nobumasa Okabe, an attorney for plaintiffs in Fukuoka Prefecture in western Japan suing the government for forced sterilization under the eugenics law, emphasized that there was no reason that the spouses of those forced to undergo sterilization and those who were forced to undergo abortions should not be eligible for compensation.

Atsuko Kubo, who chairs "Zenkoku Te o Tsunagu Ikuseikai Rengokai" (New Inclusion Japan), the country's largest private organization comprising the families of those with intellectual disabilities, among others, says she wants someone on the certification panel to be an expert on the characteristics of intellectual disabilities.

"Among people with intellectual disabilities are those who have difficulties expressing themselves, or understand the harm they have experienced, which makes it hard for them to self-report what they've gone through. Even if they can let people know that they have been victimized, it might not be easy for them to explain what happened to them in the past," Kubo said. She added that New Inclusion Japan would be assisting those who want to apply for reparations, and said she hoped that whatever body ends up certifying people as victims will be flexible enough to take applications from support groups like New Inclusion.

The working team's plan to incorporate "deep regret and apology" into the reparations bill has been met with strong criticism. New Inclusion chair Kubo said, "It's unclear what exactly the government's apologizing for. The government should first explain why it allowed the eugenics law to exist for half a century, and then clearly indicate what exactly the mistake was."

A woman who is supporting her sister-in-law in her 60s in Miyagi Prefecture who brought the first lawsuit against the central government seeking compensation for sterilization surgery to the Sendai District Court, said, "If the government feels deep regret, then it's only natural that it communicate the facts to all the people whose records are left" -- a question as to why the government isn't doing so.

Megumi Yamazaki, the deputy director-general of the Hokkaido block of the Japan National Assembly of Disabled Peoples' International (DPI-Japan) proposes careful handling of the situation that involves "confirming the victim's will in a way that is appropriate to the person, and also providing support to the victim's family."

Regarding the government's lack of a plan to contact all those for whom records of sterilization surgeries remain, Koji Niisato, the co-head of legal teams across the nation representing plaintiffs suing the central government for how they were treated under the eugenic protection law wondered, "Does the government even have the serious intention of offering redress to as many people as they can?"

(Japanese original by Motomi Kusakabe, Hokkaido News Department; Masanori Hirakawa, Kyushu News Department; Ayumi Iwasako, Aomori Bureau; and Hiroshi Endo, Sendai Bureau)

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