National

In 'rare' move, Abe says government won't appeal damages awarded to leprosy patients' kin

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that the government will not file an appeal against a recent court ruling in Kumamoto awarding damages to former leprosy patients’ kin.

“We have decided not to appeal,” Abe told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office.

“We must not prolong the hardship of family members who have gone through something indescribable,” Abe said. “Though it’s a rare move, we’ve decided not to appeal against the ruling.”

In late June, the Kumamoto District Court ruled in favor of 541 plaintiffs, ordering the state to pay a total of about ¥370 million in damages. The government had until Friday to decide whether to appeal against the ruling, and the decision came ahead of the July 21 Upper House election.

There were voices within the administration in favor of an appeal, a source said. The latest decision was apparently motivated in part by the political calculation that an appeal would negatively impact the government’s electoral chances, observers say.

It was the first ruling awarding compensation to family members of patients who suffered discrimination in the form of isolation in sanatoriums under the government’s decadeslong segregation policy.

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto said the government will soon start compiling redress measures for the families of the onetime patients.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is now curable.

In its June 28 ruling, the Kumamoto court said the state acted illegally by failing to end segregation by 1960 and retaining the leprosy prevention law until 1996.

The ruling recognized that the government’s segregation policy made it difficult for patients’ family members to enter schools, find jobs and get married.

A total of 541 out of the 561 plaintiffs, who are family members of former leprosy patients across the country, were awarded between ¥330,000 and ¥1.43 million each.

Victims and families were emotional, saying they were elated by the news after a very long fight for vindication.

Harumi Oku, a 72-year-old plaintiff from Kumamoto Prefecture, called the decision “historic.” When she was a child, she was forcibly separated from her mother, a leprosy patient.

“My relationship with my mother cannot be restored but I am so glad that I plucked up my courage and raised my voice,” Oku said.

Chikara Hayashi, the 94-year-old leader of the group of plaintiffs, said redress should have been provided to the families long ago.

The court verdict and decision “came too late,” the resident of the city of Fukuoka said.

“The government should pour all of its efforts into resolving the discrimination against citizens it has fostered through its wrong policies,” he said.

A compensation system has already been launched for former leprosy patients, regardless of whether they were isolated in sanatoriums. It came after a 2001 court ruling that found the policy implemented under the nation’s leprosy prevention law, which was in effect from 1907 to 1996, was unconstitutional.

Then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi decided not to appeal that ruling, which ordered the state to pay a total of ¥1.82 billion in damages to former leprosy patients. Koizumi also issued an apology to them.

However, these government responses do not indicate that damages would be awarded for all sufferers of leprosy-related discrimination or over other state-sanctioned discrimination against individuals with certain medical conditions.

Representatives of plaintiffs affected by unfair treatment of leprosy patients say that it is difficult to know the total number of victims since many families have not filed suit.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5