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Japan court rules old eugenics law unconstitutional, but rejects damages for victims

A group representing the plaintiffs in a forced eugenic surgery damages lawsuit enters the Sendai District Court in Sendai, on May 28, 2019. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)

SENDAI -- The Sendai District Court on May 28 rejected claims for damages filed by two women who sued the government over their forced sterilization under the now-defunct eugenic protection law, while declaring that the law was unconstitutional.

The women from Miyagi Prefecture in northeastern Japan, aged in their 60s and 70s, had sought a combined 71.5 million yen in damages from the government. They argued that their sterilization under the law, which was in effect from 1948 to 1996, violated their right to pursue happiness as guaranteed by Article 13 of Japan's Constitution.

A total of 20 people have filed lawsuits in seven district courts across Japan demanding compensation for the treatment they suffered under the law, which targeted individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses or so-called hereditary diseases. The latest decision in the Sendai court was the first ruling in these cases.

The woman in her 60s, who has an intellectual disability and says she was forcibly sterilized at the age of 15, filed her lawsuit in January last year as the first of the series of cases. She went by the alias "Yumi Sato." In May the same year, the woman in her 70s, who disclosed the treatment she suffered under the alias "Junko Iizuka," filed a lawsuit in the same court, saying she was sterilized at the age of 16. The cases were later merged, and proceedings concluded in March this year, around a year after the cases were filed.

The Sendai District Court is seen in this file photo taken in June 2017. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

Prior to the ruling, Presiding Judge Motoyuki Nakashima had predicted that the court had no intention of avoiding a judgment on the constitutionality of the old law.

The central government had requested that the lawsuits be dismissed. It cited Article 724 of the Civil Code, which stipulates that the right to demand compensation ends 20 years after an illegal act, and pointed out the existence of the separate State Redress Act that guarantees individuals' rights to demand compensation for illegal practices by the state and the Diet.

The woman in her 60s had sought 33 million yen in compensation, while Iizuka had sought 38.5 million yen.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Endo, Sendai Bureau)

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