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Basic forced sterilization reparations bill policy set, payment amounts undecided

TOKYO -- The basic policy on a bill to compensate people forcibly sterilized under Japan's now-defunct eugenic protection law (1948-1996) was approved on Dec. 10 by a ruling party working team and a non-partisan group of lawmakers.

The plan would see the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare examine claimants' petitions and pay reparations to people it determines were victims of the eugenic law, which targeted people deemed to have disabilities, mental illnesses or hereditary diseases. The lump-sum payment amounts, however, have yet to be specified. Legislators from both groups say the sum will be determined by the time the bill is submitted to the Diet. The ruling and opposition parties are aiming for the bill to be passed into law during next year's ordinary session of the legislature.

The ruling party working team and the multiparty group of legislators had been deliberating reparation measures separately, but integrated their proposals once it became clear that the solutions they were considering were roughly the same.

There were differences in the proposed forewords to the bills, but ultimately the groups agreed on the expression, "We sincerely regret (the forced sterilization surgeries) and express our deepest apologies." The subject "we" was adopted to refer to all Japanese citizens, including the government and the legislature. Furthermore, a phrase that had not been included in the proposals of either group -- "the state will address this issue in good faith going forward" -- was also incorporated into the basic reparations bill proposal.

The proposal does not include a clear apology from the government, currently the defendant in damages suits filed by forced sterilization victims. "It was impossible to include a clear apology from the state while cases are being tried in the courts," a person connected to the government pointed out.

Meanwhile, non-partisan legislators' group member Akihiro Hatsushika, an opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) lawmaker in the House of Representatives, said, "We wanted to offer redress to the many people subjected to operations that were not in line with the eugenics law when it was in force." Mizuho Fukushima, a Social Democratic Party (SDP) member of the House of Councillors in the non-partisan group, explained, "'We' is more all-encompassing than 'the state.'"

Victims and their families, however, are wary. Saburo Kita (a pseudonym), a 75-year-old Tokyo resident who heads a group formed Dec. 4 by forced sterilization victims and their families, sees the subject "we" in the proposal's foreword as problematic.

"Unless the government admits that it's responsible, no one will be satisfied," he said. A woman whose sixty-something sister-in-law, who has an intellectual disability and was forcibly sterilized, wonders whether the health ministry could be trusted to make just assessments on who was a victim. Her doubts stem from the ministry's two decades of insisting, after the forced sterilization provision had been deleted from the law, that the involuntary surgeries had been legitimate

A decision on specific reparation amounts, which was postponed, will be discussed and made by spring next year. For reference, the government and the Diet have looked into a reparations law in Sweden, where a similar sterilization law was in place until 1975. Since each victim in Sweden was paid approximately 2 million yen based on a compensation law, a senior member of the non-partisan parliamentary group predicts that the lump-sum payment in Japan will "settle somewhere between 3 million and 5 million yen."

The same group member said that to raise awareness of the reparations program, in addition to PR measures the government would also set up a claims consultation service that takes into account the disabilities the victims may have.

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

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