KUMAMOTO – Former Hansen’s disease patients who sued the state over its past isolation policy on Saturday hailed the permanency of a ruling awarding them compensation after the government decided not to lodge an appeal.
They praised the Kumamoto District Court decision in a statement, calling it a “historic first step for recovering the former patients’ humanity” after decades of forced isolation in state sanitariums. The statement was also signed by a group of plaintiffs in suits pending in the Tokyo and Okayama courts. In a press conference in Kumamoto, former patients said the ruling confirmed the government’s responsibility in the matter.
As for government plans to restore their honor, the statement says the steps must be based on agreement with the plaintiffs and reflect their wishes.
The plaintiffs are demanding a sincere apology from the state, publication of the apology, compensation and the establishment of ongoing negotiations with the state.
The lawyers said they will resolve other suits nationwide by using the Kumamoto ruling as a guideline.
Yasushi Shimura, 68, deputy head of the Kumamoto plaintiffs, said, “We started the suit with only 13 members, but won through a painful struggle.”
The Kumamoto court ordered the state to pay a total of 1.82 billion yen in compensation to 127 former Hansen’s disease patients confined in institutions under the segregation policy stipulated in the 1953 Leprosy Prevention Law. The law was repealed in 1996. In a surprise move, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced Wednesday that the government would not challenge the ruling. The government issued a statement of apology to former patients the same day.
In the statement, however, the government said it disagrees with part of the lower court ruling that says lawmakers should be held responsible for delaying the legal revisions that would have altered the policy.
But the lawyers said, “It’s up to the judiciary to determine whether the state has the responsibility or not, and the government statement will not affect the ruling in Kumamoto.”
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