TOKYO -- The Diet on April 24 enacted legislation to compensate disabled people and others who were forcibly sterilized in Japan under the now-defunct eugenic protection law (1948-1996).
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The legislation providing state redress to victims was unanimously approved during a plenary session of the House of Councillors, after earlier passing the House of Representatives on April 11. Under the law, each victim is to receive 3.2 million yen in compensation, with payments starting as early as the end of June.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is visiting Europe, issued a statement the same day noting the "great psychological and physical damage" that sterilization victims underwent.
"The government, from its position of implementing the old eugenic protection law, seriously reflects on the matter and issues a sincere apology," the statement said.
The move came after victims of the law -- many of whom are aging -- sued the government for compensation. It is rare for such a law on relief measures to be passed ahead of a court ruling.
However, there still remains a gap between the government and some victims regarding the amount of the payment, and how victims eligible for compensation will be informed.
Some 25,000 people are believed to have been sterilized under the law, which targeted those with specified ailments or disabilities, but the names of just 3,079 of those who underwent surgery have been identified through records. Even if relevant records no longer exist, people will be able to receive compensation if they can be identified through their own or others' testimonies. But since victims will not receive notification of eligibility under the law out of consideration for their privacy, it is feared that the number of victims who receive compensation will be limited.
After the law's sterilization provision was abolished in 1996, the government had maintained that the sterilization surgeries were legal. But after those who underwent the surgeries began to file lawsuits demanding reparation in January last year, a ruling coalition working team and a supra-partisan group of legislators were formed to address the issue. A bill on relief measures was subsequently drafted and submitted to the Diet on April 10.
The preamble to the newly enacted law states, "In our respective positions, we sincerely reflect on the matter, and offer a heartfelt apology." The term "we" is interpreted to refer to the Diet and government, but in light of the ongoing lawsuits, the legislation made no reference to the illegality or unconstitutionality of the forced sterilizations.
The first ruling among seven lawsuits filed at district courts around the nation is due to be handed down in the Sendai District Court on May 28. If the plaintiffs' claims are accepted, it could trigger calls for revisions to the relief law.
After the enactment of the relief law, Liberal Democratic Party legislator Hidehisa Otsuji, standing head of the supra-partisan legislators' group, told reporters, "The Diet, which unanimously passed the legislation, bears a heavy responsibility, and I think should properly apologize. Those affected are advanced in age, and so I think it was good that legislation was quickly enacted."
When asked to comment on the fact some victims remain unhappy with the content of the law, Otsuji said, "I imagine there is various dissatisfaction, but this is not the end. Rather we will move forward from here, including with assessment of the matter."
(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Harada and Ai Yokota, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)