National

Japan lawmakers sign off on plan to compensate families of former leprosy patients

Kyodo, JIJI

A group of Japanese lawmakers on Thursday approved a plan to compensate family members of former leprosy patients with payments of up to ¥1.8 million each.

The group of ruling and opposition party lawmakers will finalize a bill and submit it to the ongoing extraordinary Diet session, paving the way for compensation to be paid over the discrimination and prejudice suffered by the kin of leprosy patients under the government’s decadeslong segregation policy.

“It’s finally the day we’ve been waiting for,” said Chikara Hayashi, 95, who heads a plaintiff group made up of relatives of former leprosy sufferers.

But Hayashi said, “Relatives of former leprosy patients have their own lives, and no one should believe that ¥1.8 million can redeem them.”

Yasuyuki Tokuda, a lead lawyer for the plaintiff group, said, “I think (the agreement) is another step toward the elimination of discrimination and prejudice” against relatives of former leprosy patients.

According to the plan, the government will pay ¥1.8 million each to parents, children and spouses of former leprosy patients in compensation for psychological distress.

Siblings, as well as nephews, nieces and grandchildren who resided with the patients, will be paid ¥1.3 million each.

The compensation program will also cover distress inflicted after 2002, which was not recognized in a June court ruling that said the issue had already been resolved in an accord reached by the state and leprosy patients.

Relatives of former patients who lived in Okinawa while it was under U.S. Occupation, as well as those who lived in Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula before World War II, will also be eligible.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimates that 20,000 to 30,000 people will be eligible for the payments, totaling ¥35 billion to ¥50 billion.

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

Relatives of plaintiffs who died while lawsuits were pending will not receive compensation under the legislation but will be paid lump sums in accordance with a ministerial ordinance.

The preamble of the legislation states “the Diet and the government” offer their “deep apology” to former patients and their families.

The ministry “will make its best efforts toward removing prejudice and discrimination in coordination with relevant ministries and agencies,” Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters.

In June, the Kumamoto District Court ordered the state to pay between ¥300,000 and ¥1.3 million per person to 541 family members of former leprosy patients across Japan.

The ruling was finalized in July when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided not to appeal. Later that month, Abe apologized to family members of the former patients.

It was the first ruling ordering the state to compensate family members of leprosy patients who suffered discrimination as they were isolated in sanatoriums under the government’s segregation policy dating back to 1931.

The government is working on new measures to compensate those who suffered discrimination regardless of whether they participated in the lawsuit.

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