Ruling and opposition party lawmakers on Thursday decided on a bill to provide ¥3.2 million ($28,700) in state redress to every surviving victim of a state sterilization program that was conducted under a now-defunct 1948 eugenics law.
The bill marks progress toward offering relief to the victims of the program that only came to an end in 1996, but the level of compensation was immediately criticized as insufficient by lawyers involved in damages suits filed by victims across the country.
Under the bill, the one-time payments, on par with similar compensation in Sweden, would be made to victims who underwent sterilization irrespective of consent. The spouses of deceased victims would not be eligible for redress.
The bill also included a “deep apology” in its preamble for the physical and mental suffering inflicted on the victims, but it failed to assign specific blame by employing “we” as the subject of the sentence. The victims have been calling for a clear apology from the “state.”
“The word ‘we’ strongly signals that it includes the Diet and the government,” said Norihisa Tamura, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker who dealt with the issue as the head of a task force also involving its coalition partner the Komeito party.
The lawmakers plan to submit the bill to the Diet in April and seek its passage within the month. They have been considering redress ahead of court rulings in the series of lawsuits filed against the state since January, with the highest compensation demand exceeding ¥35 million.
A lawyers’ group involved in the suits immediately reacted with disappointment.
“I don’t think this bill can be said to squarely face up to the suffering (of the victims),” Koji Niisato, a co-leader of the group, said at a news conference, noting that the plaintiffs will continue with their lawsuits.
Kikuo Kojima, a plaintiff who was forced to undergo sterilization surgery nearly 60 years ago, said angrily of the content of the bill, “It’s not that I want money, but isn’t this appalling?”
“A surgical knife cut my body and I could not have children throughout my life. I couldn’t talk about the surgery to anyone around me and I lied to my wife. Only ¥3.2 million for all these things,” the 77-year-old said.
The former eugenics law, modeled on Nazi Germany’s sterilization law, authorized surgery to sterilize people with learning difficulties, mental illnesses or genetic disorders to prevent the birth of “inferior” offspring during the postwar food shortage.
The bill set the amount of redress by looking at the examples of Germany and Sweden, which have apologized to and compensated the victims of their sterilization programs.
In Sweden, where a similar eugenics law was in force between 1935 and 1975, a law came into force in 1999 to pay 175,000 Swedish krona to each of the victims, now equivalent to around ¥3.12 million.
In Japan, about 25,000 people with disabilities were sterilized under the law, including around 16,500 who underwent surgery without their consent, according to the health ministry and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
As remaining sterilization records only identify 3,000 victims, a panel will be set up in the summer under the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to certify those who do not possess documentation but can show evidence such as operative scars.
A ministry official said it is unclear when the payments would start.