Ex-Hansen’s disease patient wins segregation suit

Government agrees to pay 5 million yen to woman who fled to U.S., fearing discrimination

The government has agreed to pay 5 million yen in compensation to a former Japanese citizen in the United States who claims she suffered under Japan’s past policy of forcibly segregating Hansen’s disease patients, sources said Wednesday.

The settlement of the lawsuit, filed at the Tokyo District Court by a former patient in her 70s, will be the first in which an overseas resident will be awarded compensation without having been forced to live in an isolated sanitarium in Japan.

The government previously only paid compensation to former Hansen’s disease patients who were forced into segregated Japanese sanitariums under a policy that continued until 1996.

The woman, born in Kagoshima Prefecture, was diagnosed with the disease in Okinawa during the 1945-1972 U.S. military occupation.

She moved to the United States, fearing that she would be quarantined and discriminated against under the Japanese policy and that it would cause problems for her family, and entered a sanitarium there in 1963, they said. She later acquired U.S. citizenship and now lives in Louisiana.

The government initially refused to give her compensation because she had never been forced into a Japanese sanitarium.

But it eventually accepted her lawyers’ argument that the segregation policy and social discrimination forced her to leave Japan, the sources said.

A law took effect in 2001 to compensate Hansen’s disease patients for being forcibly held in sanitariums to isolate them from society. The law does not place any limits on the locations of the sanitariums, stipulating only that compensation should be paid to all patients Japanese authorities placed in them, even for a single day, regardless of a patient’s nationality or place of residence.