AILING, AGING PLAINTIFFS' AID QUEST GETS NO EASIER

Justice eludes hibakusha 61 years on

by Miya Tanaka

Kyodo

The nation marked the 61st anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this month, but many survivors are still frustrated by what they see as the government’s lack of measures and understanding of their enduring plight.

As if to echo their sentiments, the latest anniversaries came after two district courts effectively ruled that the administrative branch of government failed in recognizing the radiation-caused illness of some hibakusha despite their pleas.

Since 2003, lawsuits have been jointly filed by atomic bomb survivors with the number of plaintiffs totaling about 180. They seek government recognition of their sufferings. The first ruling came in May and the second earlier this month, and both were in favor of the plaintiffs.

“This is a fight to stop the government from underestimating the devastating effect of exposure to the atomic bombs,” said Mikiso Iwasa, a Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor and supporter of the plaintiffs.

“Japan, as the only country to suffer atomic bomb attacks, needs to accurately understand the effects of the radiation and tell of the horror to the world,” Iwasa, 77, said.

The two rulings — in Osaka and Hiroshima — this year recognized all 50 plaintiffs as suffering from diseases caused by atomic bomb radiation, voiding an administrative action to reject their applications.

The Hiroshima ruling, issued just two days before the Aug. 6 anniversary of the bombing of the city, has led the plaintiffs and supporters to step up their calls for the government either not to appeal or withdraw its appeal in the two lawsuits.

The plaintiffs are holders of atomic bomb survivor certificates, which entitle them to such support as health management allowances of 33,800 yen per month, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

If their maladies, including cancer and leukemia, are recognized as caused by atomic bomb radiation, they will be eligible to receive special allowances of 137,430 yen per month, the ministry says.

But to be recognized as such, they need to undergo another screening, which is criticized as “too strict” and “ruling out applicants depending on how far they were located from ground zero.”

Among 259,556 atomic bomb survivor certificate holders, only 0.8 percent have been recognized as suffering from atomic bomb diseases as of the end of March, according to the health ministry.

“Please help the atomic bomb survivors who don’t have much longer to live. I hope politicians hear the voices of the survivors when they come to Hiroshima (to attend the ceremony)” Teruko Narutoko, 77, a plaintiff in the Hiroshima case, said after the Aug. 4 court ruling, indicating her hopes for politicians to move for a swift settlement.

Both Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and health minister Jiro Kawasaki, who is in charge of providing government support for the survivors, attended the memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Koizumi delivered speeches stressing that the government has provided “comprehensive” support to the survivors and that it will continue to promote measures according to their actual situations.

But he did not attend gatherings to hear requests from the survivors groups in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and when asked by reporters whether the government would appeal the Hiroshima case, Koizumi did not clarify.

“As there are areas that are highly technical (in the ruling), we’re now examining it carefully,” Koizumi said.

After hearing Koizumi’s speech at the Nagasaki ceremony on Aug. 9, Minoru Moriuchi, 69, who heads a plaintiffs group in a lawsuit filed with the Nagasaki District Court, expressed disappointment.

“It wasn’t convincing. His words didn’t move me,” he said.

Moriuchi filed for applications for radiation-caused illness for his hepatitis C, large intestine cancer and stomach cancer, but they have been rejected.

“Until now, we have tolerated (the situation) and have given up applying for recognition. But as health concerns grow stronger as we age, we find these lawsuits necessary,” he added.

Meanwhile, Kawasaki told an Aug. 9 news conference after attending the Nagasaki ceremony that his ministry is not “considering revising the (certification) system at the moment.”

He reiterated that the government’s criteria on recognizing atomic bomb illnesses are based on “widely internationally accepted knowledge,” expressing his discontent with the Hiroshima ruling.

The government issues certification by working out the estimated amount of radiation exposure calculated from where the survivors were located from the hypocenters in the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with such factors as age, sex and illnesses.

But the Hiroshima ruling said the yardstick for certification has “limits and weak points” as it does not reflect fully the radiation exposure brought on by residual and internal radiation.

Critics also say the government is using such “scientific” criteria to limit the number of those who can receive special allowances. Expenditure on measures for the survivors has remained steady at around 160 billion yen every year at least for the past five years.

Apart from jointly filed suits, Hideko Matsuya, a 64-year-old atomic bomb survivor in Nagasaki, also won a similar lawsuit for illness recognition at the Supreme Court in 2000.

“I expected the state to change its screening policy (after I won the suit) in favor of atomic bomb survivors, but it seems to have become stricter,” Matsuya said.

Matsuya was 2.45 km from ground zero when the bomb exploded on Aug. 9, 1945. She was paralyzed down the right side of her body through the combined effects of her exposure to a large amount of radiation and being hit in the head by a piece of tile.

Her applications to be recognized as a victim of atomic bomb radiation illness, however, were rejected.

“I was frustrated to receive a document refusing to issue certification. I just wanted it to be recognized that my impediment was caused by atomic bomb radiation,” she said.

Matsuya also stressed the necessity of a quick solution, noting most of the plaintiffs in the recent jointly filed lawsuits are in their 70s, many suffering from cancer, and cannot wait as long as she did.

It took 12 years for her to win the suit.

“Shortly before the Hiroshima anniversary, another plaintiff passed away. It is regrettable the country that should most show understanding to atomic bomb survivors is acting in a manner far from that,” she said.