Japan court orders govt to pay sterilization victims compensation

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Japan court orders govt to pay sterilization victims compensation

One of the plaintiffs is Kazumi Watanabe, center, who expresses delight at the ruling of the Kumamoto District Court at a meeting in Kumamoto on January 23. Kei Yoshida KUMAMOTO - The district court ordered the central government to pay compensation to a man and woman who were forcibly sterilized more than half a century ago under Japan's now-defunct eugenics law.

It ordered the government on January 23 to pay 15 million yen $115,000 to the man and 7 million yen to the woman, calling the operations performed on them unconstitutional and extremely inhumane for denying them the fundamental act of producing descendants. The two from Kumamoto Prefecture had sought damages of 33 million yen each, arguing that the forced sterilization operations performed on them under the former Eugenic Protection Law were unconstitutional.

Their lawyers hailed the ruling as a milestone victory that opens the way for more like it, even though the total compensation payout falls short of their claim.

Yasuyuki Tokuda, one of their lawyers, said this is a big step forward toward other rulings that will be given by district courts.

According to the plaintiffs' legal team, there were 10 district courts or district court branches in Japan.

The courts ruled in favor of plaintiffs in the third case, following the two cases reviewed by the high courts.

Under the Eugenic Protection Law of 1948, people with certain illnesses or disabilities were sterilized until 1996, when forced sterilization was made illegal and the law renamed.

The ruling by the Kumamoto District Court recognized that the man and the woman underwent sterilization operations sometime between 1955 and 1971.

The ruling said that the operations were based on the discriminatory belief that all people with certain disabilities or illnesses are inferior. The operations were in violation of the right to happiness and the right to personal autonomy under Article 13 of the Constitution, as well as the prohibition of discrimination set out under Article 14 of the Constitution.

The government argued during the trial that the 20 year statute of limitations should apply.

The district court s ruling acknowledged that 20 years have passed, but ultimately concluded that the rule should not apply in this case.

It reasoned that it should not apply because of the significance of the harm done, along with the grave responsibilities held by the government for actively carrying out the policy, which spread prejudice and discrimination as a result.

The court reasoned that it was hard for the victims to get damages from the government for a long time because it would not acknowledge its wrongdoing until the enactment of a lump-sum compensation law in April 2019.

The ruling concluded that denying the plaintiffs the right to seek damages by applying the statute of limitations would be a big mistake, and would be a violation of the idea of justice and fairness. The plaintiffs' legal team said that all seven rulings that have already been handed down by district courts had dismissed the plaintiffs arguments by invoking the statute of limitations.

The high courts of Tokyo and Osaka reversed district court rulings last year by deciding to restrict the application of the statute and order the government to pay compensation to the plaintiffs.

Ko Misumi, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, praised the Kumamoto District Court for declaring that the statute of limitations does not apply.

Misumi said it was more progressive than the ones given by the Osaka and Tokyo high courts.

The health ministry issued a statement acknowledging that the argument was not accepted but refrained from commenting on the ruling.

We would like to look at the ruling and respond appropriately, it said.