Court spares overseas hibakusha trips to Japan

Kyodo

Atomic-bomb survivors living overseas do not have to come to Japan to apply for medical allowances to cover their treatment, the Nagasaki District Court ruled Tuesday.

The ruling came too late for Choi Gye Chol, a South Korean victim who had filed a lawsuit seeking nullification of the Nagasaki Municipal Government’s decision to reject his application for the allowance. Choi died at a hospital in Pusan in July at age 78.

Presiding Judge Naoyuki Tagawa said, “It was illegal for the Nagasaki Municipal Government to reject (Choi’s) application without checking if the plaintiff was capable of coming to Japan.”

He said Japan’s atomic bomb survivors’ support law “is supposed to provide support to victims who suffer from health problems, and therefore it is invalid to require those who are unable to travel to Japan to come here to apply for the support.”

“Such a requirement does not reflect the purpose of the law,” he said.

Choi, who survived the Aug. 9, 1945, U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki, moved to South Korea after the war. In 1980, the Japanese government granted him the right to receive support, on condition he come to Japan to receive it, according to the suit.

The government terminated the payments later the same year when Choi returned home. The law provides for a monthly allowance of about 34,000 yen.

While an Osaka High Court ruling in 2002 has enabled A-bomb survivors living overseas to receive the allowance, the hibakusha were required under rules set by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to come to Japan to apply for the reinstatement of their right to receive their medical allowance.

As Choi was too sick to travel, he entrusted his supporters in Japan with the task.

The Nagasaki Municipal Government rejected Choi’s application, demanding he apply in person. Choi then sued the local authority in February, demanding the decision be repealed.

Tuesday’s ruling by the Nagasaki District Court is the first to focus on whether applicants who cannot come to Japan are eligible for the allowance. A similar lawsuit is pending before the Hiroshima District Court.

It is estimated that there are about 100 South Korean hibakusha who are unable to come to Japan to apply for the allowances because they are either too sick or too old.

A health ministry official said the ministry would examine the ruling before deciding what to do.

“I wanted Choi to hear the court ruling while he was alive,” said Nobuto Hirano, corepresentative of a Japanese group supporting hibakusha in South Korea.

Hirano said Choi was already bed-ridden when he filed the suit in February.

“Bed-ridden victims like Choi are the ones who need the allowance most, but he could not receive the support,” Hirano said. “Although the ruling does not benefit the plaintiff any more, it is still significant and we want to make use of the court decision for the benefit of many other overseas victims.”