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Calls for more gov't action after redress law passed for forced sterilization victims

"Saburo Kita," left, who underwent sterilization procedures mandated by the eugenic protection law, and lawyer Koji Niisato, center, speak at a press conference on April 24, 2019, after the redress law was passed by the Diet earlier the same day. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

TOKYO -- Victims of forced sterilization under the now-defunct eugenic protection law called for more to be done as legislation to compensate them was passed unanimously during a plenary session of the House of Councillors on April 24. Under the agreed terms, every person affected by the law is eligible to receive 3.2 million yen (about 28,600 dollars).

The compensation comes over 70 years after forced sterilizations were first carried out in Japan in 1948. The practice was halted in 1996 with revisions to the law into the maternal health act. People effected by the policy, their families and supporters spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun about their reactions to the enactment.

Deliberations over the new law took place just after 10:50 a.m., and the bill was put to vote in a matter of minutes. But the expressions of the 10 assembled victims, family members and other associates who came to watch the passage were mixed in the moments following the enactment.

The elder sister of a 67-year-old woman from Yamagata Prefecture in northwestern Japan who was sterilized under the law expressed a range of feelings on the outcome. "It was worthwhile that we spoke up." But she added, "Considering these acts robbed people of their dignity, the amount is quite low."

In western Japan's Fukuoka Prefecture, there are no fewer than 364 individuals known to have undergone surgery under the eugenic protection law, but until now none have applied for state redress. The head of the secretariat to a legal team representing plaintiffs in the region praised the speedy resolution, but also criticized the government's failure to make more victims aware they were affected by the law. "Even when they have records of the surgeries, if information about them hasn't been passed to those who received the operations then the chances they won't receive compensation are high."

Hiroshi Sugita of Peer Support Mie, an incorporated nonprofit organization in Mie Prefecture, central Japan, wants more clarity. "The government's responsibility on the issue should be put into writing." He also queried the lump-sum amount offered by the government, saying that it shows "they have little respect for the rights of those affected."

"Even with the relief measures, it won't give me my life back. The government should do the right thing and apologize," said a Miyagi Prefecture resident in her 70s at a press conference for claimants held in Tokyo after the announcement. Forced to accept surgery at age 16, for more than 20 years she has gone under the alias "Junko Iizuka" to fight the government for recognition of individuals sterilized by the state.

Despite her worsening health since the beginning of the year, Iizuka used a walking stick and traveled by train to see the law passed at the Diet on April 24. She had more harsh words for the state, commenting, "I always thought it was my father's fault that I was sterilized. I resented him for it, but I was mistaken."

A man going by the name "Saburo Kita," 76, a victim of the policy who is currently fighting a damages case against the government in the Tokyo District Court, spoke at the press conference. "Most of the people who were forced to have the surgeries don't even know this was done to them," he said as he called for an investigation into the true scale of the problem.

Lawyer Koji Niisato, a co-head of a team of attorneys representing plaintiffs across the nation, reflected on the movement's progress so far. "The law is insufficient, but we can praise the country's leader for clarifying the stance through a prime minister's statement that this issue must be resolved." He continued, "If the plaintiffs (at a trial in the Sendai District Court whose ruling is set for the end of May) win their case for state redress, then the government should acknowledge its responsibility to them without appealing the ruling."

(Japanese original by Asako Kamihigashi, Lifestyle and Medical News Department, Yujiro Futamura, City News Department, Ayuko Nomura, Nagoya News Center, and Hiroshi Endo, Sendai Bureau)

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