The government decided Wednesday not to appeal a landmark court ruling ordering the state to compensate former Hansen’s disease patients for violating their basic human rights by forcing them to be isolated in sanitariums.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made the surprise decision during a meeting with top government and Liberal Democratic Party officials.
Before that, Koizumi had met a group of the plaintiffs who visited his official residence asking him not to appeal the case.
Koizumi told reporters, “This is a very rare case, but we have decided not to appeal.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said that the government recognizes that its past policy of dealing with sufferers of the disease significantly limited their basic human rights.
‘The government deeply reflects on the past policy and offers an apology to them,” the top government spokesman told a news conference.
The government offers condolences to those who have died amid suffering and resentment.”
Fukuda said the government will immediately start working on new, special legislation to compensate former patients, regardless of whether they have already sued the government. Some 4,500 former patients, including 1,702 who have sued, are considered eligible for redress.
The amount of that compensation would be based on the figure set by the Kumamoto District Court on May 11 — between 8 million yen and 14 million yen each — depending on the time they were institutionalized.
Fukuda said the government will also create a new pension plan for the patients and take further medical and welfare measures.
Health Minister Chikara Sakaguchi, a senior member of the ruling coalition’s second biggest party, New Komeito, had threatened to resign if the government decided to appeal, although some doubted he would follow through with the threat.
His resignation could have jolted Koizumi’s coalition government, as the ruling LDP needs New Komeito to maintain a majority in the Diet. A decision to appeal may also have affected the enormous public popularity of the Koizumi administration.
The district court ordered the state to pay 1.82 billion yen to 127 former Hansen’s disease patients who were forced into isolation under the 1953 Leprosy Prevention Law, which was only repealed in 1996. The 127 comprised the first group of plaintiffs.
The court said the former Health and Welfare Ministry bore grave responsibility for failing to alter its isolation policy even though a cure had been developed and drug therapy had allowed patients to return to society by 1960.
It also acknowledged that lawmakers were responsible for failing to carry out necessary legal revisions at an earlier date.
The government had originally planned to seek an out-of-court settlement after appealing the ruling by presenting compensation and assistance proposals.
Proponents for an appeal, mainly in the government and the LDP, have said they are worried the ruling will prompt further lawsuits blaming the state for not making legal revisions in the past.
Opposition parties including the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, and the Social Democratic Party have said the government should not appeal so that the human rights of former patients would not be violated further.
The meeting between Koizumi and the plaintiffs was realized Wednesday after an earlier visit to his official residence Monday was refused.
I told Prime Minister (Junichiro) Koizumi today how much I have suffered,” said Tokie Nishi, one Hansen’s disease patients who met with Koizumi on Wednesday. “The prime minister was in tears, too.”
Koki Hino, another patient, talked about how he and his family both suffered from discrimination.
“After I fell ill, my family was ostracized from the community,” Hino said. “My family was torn apart.”
Kazumi Sogano said he feels he carries a huge moral responsibility for the souls of about 23,000 patients who died from the disease, as well some 3,500 fetuses patients were forced to abort. A number of residents at the sanitariums were also “strongly recommended” by authorities to have abortions or be sterilized.
Taken by Koizumi’s “sincere” attitude, Sogano said he was certain that the government would not not appeal the ruling.
After hearing the government’s decision, Yuji Kodama, a 69-year-old plaintiff living in a national sanitarium in Gunma Prefecture, expressed his gratitude to supporters of the former patients’ legal battle against the government.
“I just want to say thank you to all (those involved in the action),” said Kodama, 69.
A resident of Kikuchi Keifu-en in Kumamoto Prefecture, expressed his satisfaction with the government move, saying that the wishes of the former patients were finally realized.
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