Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi issued a statement of apology Friday to former Hansen’s disease patients for a government policy that forced them into decades of isolation.
The written statement was approved by Koizumi’s Cabinet in the morning, along with a separate government statement on his decision Wednesday not to appeal against a landmark court ruling ordering the state to pay compensation to the patients.
“We seriously accept the fact that the policy to put Hansen’s disease patients in institutions served as a major limitation and restriction to many patients’ human rights, and that there has been extremely severe prejudice and discrimination against such people among the public,” the document says.
“The government seriously reflects upon and offers its frank apology over the pain and suffering of the patients and former patients.”
Koizumi says in the document that although the government would have appealed under other circumstances, as it sees “grave legal problems” with the ruling, it will refrain from doing so because the advanced age of the former patients calls for a rapid resolution.
In a separate statement, the government said it does not agree with part of the May 11 ruling by the Kumamoto District Court that says lawmakers should be held responsible for failing to carry out necessary legal revisions to alter the government’s isolation policy.
The statement also says the fact that the ruling approves redress for damages sustained over a 40-year period counters a Civil Code limit of 20 years.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said that although the statement is not legally binding, the government issued it in an effort to limit the impact the ruling would have on other existing and potential lawsuits.
“This is a grave expression of the opinion of the Cabinet,” he said.
Such statements approved by the Cabinet have only been issued over major incidents, including the return of Okinawa Prefecture to Japan from U.S. rule in 1972.
In its ruling, the Kumamoto court ordered the state to pay a total of 1.82 billion yen in compensation to 127 former Hansen’s disease patients who were forced into isolation.
The segregation policy stipulated in the 1953 Leprosy Prevention Law was not repealed until 1996.
Koizumi repeated in Friday’s statement that the state will seek legal measures to offer compensation to all current and former patients of Hansen’s disease regardless of whether they participated in the suit.
He also said the government will help the former patients regain their honor and boost social welfare services available to them.
The government will also create a new panel comprising government representatives, patients and former patients, the document says.
Gist of statement on leprosy ruling
The government on Friday identified the following legal problems with a May 11 Kumamoto District Court ruling ordering the state to compensate former Hansen’s disease patients for forcing them into isolation. The government did not appeal the decision.
* The government cannot approve of the ruling’s interpretation of the State Redress Law, which it says excessively restricts Diet members’ activities. The interpretation contravenes a previous Supreme Court decision that lawmakers cannot be held responsible unless they intentionally pass laws that conflict with the primary interpretation of the Constitution.
* The government cannot approve of the ruling’s conclusion to grant compensation for damages incurred over 40 years ago, which runs contrary to a Civil Code regulation stipulating a 20-year limit on rights to claim damages.
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