Lawsuits filed over forced sterilisations by Japanese government

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Two men and a woman filed lawsuits in Sapporo, Sendai and Tokyo district courts on Thursday in connection with forced sterilisations that were performed on intellectually disabled people and others under the now-defunct Eugenic Protection Law.

 The plaintiffs, all in their 70s and living in Hokkaido, Miyagi Prefecture and Tokyo, are demanding the government pay compensation ranging from ¥11 million to ¥38.5 million. They claim they were forced to undergo sterilization without their consent, which infringed on their human rights.

 Lawmaker-sponsored legislation to provide relief to victims out of court is being considered, and close attention will be paid to the outcome of the lawsuits.

Relief measures law mulled

 According to petitions and other sources, the three plaintiffs were forced to undergo sterilization in the 1950s and 1960s. They claimed that their right to the pursuit of happiness guaranteed under the Constitution was infringed, as they were deprived of their right to decide for themselves whether to have children and raise them. They also said they suffered psychological pain.

 The plaintiffs further intend to hold the government and the Diet responsible for their failure to introduce relief measures even after the Eugenic Protection Law was revised as the Maternal Health Law in 1996.

 Since there are no official documents to directly prove that the three plaintiffs underwent the operations, the main pieces of evidence will be related documents, surgical scars on their bodies and family members’ accounts. How to prove they underwent the operations is likely to be a focal point of the lawsuits. 

 Another woman in Miyagi Prefecture filed a lawsuit with the Sendai District Court in January. A couple in Hokkaido also plans to file a lawsuit, claiming that the wife was forced to undergo abortion and sterilization operations.

 A nationwide support group of lawyers is expected to be formed on May 27.

 “Through lawsuits, we hope that an environment will be created in which many victims can reveal their cases,” said Koji Niisato, a lawyer belonging to the Sendai Bar Association and set to be a representative of the group.

 An official of the maternal and child health division of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said, “We’d like to refrain from making any comments, as we haven’t received petitions in any of the cases yet.”

16,000 did not consent

 According to the health ministry, sterilization operations were performed on at least 24,991 people under the defunct law. Of this number, operations were performed on 16,475 people without their consent.

 To ascertain the actual situation, the ministry is currently asking prefectural governments and other relevant organs to check whether related materials have been preserved. Local governments have been searching for such documents, but a survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun this month shows that, among the people who underwent the operations without giving their consent, materials have been found identifying these individuals in only about 20 percent of the cases.

 In the Diet, relief measures via lawmaker-sponsored legislation and other means are being considered. A ruling party working team of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito plans to consider details of the envisaged legislation, taking into account survey results of the ministry and other factors.

 “We want to show concrete forms of apology and compensation in the ordinary Diet session next year,” said Hidehisa Otsuji, chairman of a suprapartisan group of lawmakers.

 However, there are many issues to be tackled, such as what criteria would be used to officially recognize the damage to the victims, given the scarcity of materials, as well as whether people who underwent the operations after giving consent should also be eligible for relief measures.

■ Eugenic Protection Law

 Took effect in 1948, effectively replacing the prewar National Eugenical Law, which was modeled after the sterilization law in Nazi Germany. Its aim to “prevent the increase of inferior descendants” became the basis for performing sterilization operations on intellectually disabled people, patients with psychiatric disorders and others. If allowed by prefectural screening panels, it was deemed unnecessary to obtain the consent of the people undergoing the operations. The law was revised as the Maternal Health Law in 1996, eliminating the provisions on forced sterilization operations and other elements.