The Diet enacted legislation Wednesday to pay ¥3.2 million in state compensation to each person who underwent forced sterilization under the nation’s now-defunct eugenics law.
The law setting out the compensation provisions, drafted by ruling and opposition parties, offers an apology to survivors, but critics say its wording lacks clarity over where responsibility lies.
Between 1948 and 1996, the Eugenic Protection Law authorized the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness or hereditary disorders to prevent births of “inferior” offspring.
“The government sincerely reflects on and deeply apologizes” for the suffering caused by forced sterilization, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a statement. “To never repeat the situation, the government will make utmost efforts to realize a society in which people can coexist, regardless of disease or disability.”
The statement came after the House of Councilors unanimously approved the bill on Wednesday, following its passage through the House of Representatives on April 11.
The lump-sum payment marks a significant step forward for survivors but some are critical, noting that it has taken more than two decades since the practice ended for the government to act. Some are determined to continue court cases and are suing the government for greater compensation, the highest demand exceeding ¥30 million.
A woman in her 70s, who is among the plaintiffs seeking additional damages, expressed exasperation Wednesday over the government’s prior inertia, after she, a few other survivors and their supporters watched proceedings from the gallery of the Upper House in Tokyo.
“The government hasn’t dealt with it properly for the past 20 years, which makes me feel irate,” said the woman, who is from Miyagi Prefecture. “I want the prime minister to apologize before my eyes.”
Abe is currently on a trip to Europe.
About 25,000 people with disabilities were sterilized under the Eugenics Protection Law, including some 16,500 who were operated on without their consent, according to the health ministry and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
The ¥3.2 million will be paid to survivors whether they are said to have agreed to undergo the surgery or not.
In 1996 the law was revised, and renamed the Maternal Protection Law, to remove the discriminatory clauses that allowed forced sterilization.
“I will continue with my lawsuit so our society will understand what took place,” a man in his 80s from Hyogo Prefecture, who could not make it to Tokyo on Wednesday, said using sign language.
He was forced to undergo surgery around 1968 due to his hearing impairment.
The Sendai District Court is scheduled to hand down a ruling in late May on the first of the damages suits filed over the eugenics law.
In wording that was echoed in the prime ministers’ statement, the state redress law says, “We, in our respective positions, sincerely reflect on and deeply apologize” for the great physical and mental suffering caused by the forced sterilization program.
Ruling and opposition party lawmakers involved in the drafting process say the “we” refers to Diet members who passed the 1948 Eugenics Protection Law, and successive governments that enforced it.
Compensation will be paid to survivors after the welfare minister approves their applications. In cases where there are no records of sterilization operations or other materials confirming harm to those said to have undergone surgery, a welfare ministry screening panel of experts will decide whether to approve payments based on examinations by doctors, testimonies by survivors and related people, and other factors.
The legislation calls on the state and local governments to take appropriate measures in order to make the compensation system fully and promptly known to survivors, who will not be informed individually for privacy reasons.
In a bid to prevent any recurrence of forced sterilization, the law stipulates that the state should launch investigations into past sterilization operations.
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