Campaigners slam Japanese government’s report on forced sterilisation policy

A protest with people standing in a line - the protest is against Japan's forced sterilisation laws and aftermath
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Japanese campaigners on Wednesday slammed a government report into the sterilisation of thousands under the Eugenic Protection Law which was in place until 1996. They say the government failed to take responsibility for the procedures.

The 1,400-page report went to parliament this week. It details how Japanese authorities sterilised 16,500 people – including some as young as nine – without their consent. This was under a law which was in force from 1948.

Moreover, the government sterilised a further 8,500 people, ostensibly with their consent. However, campaigners have cast doubt on how freely these people could have consented.

Forced sterilisation: eugenics in practice

The law allowed doctors to sterilise people with heritable intellectual disabilities. This was with the aim of ‘preventing’ the birth of “poor quality descendants”. The Diplomat explained:

The purpose of the law was to prevent people with physical and intellectual disabilities, mental health problems, and patients with certain diseases such as leprosy from having “inferior” offspring.

In 2019, lawmakers passed legislation offering each victim government compensation of 3.2 million yen ($22,800). But campaigners have called this amount insufficient, considering the damage which the policy inflicted.

However, the government report has come in for criticism. Koji Niisato, a lawyer who has represented victims of the policy, said the report fell short.

Read on...

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He told journalists on Wednesday that the report is “largely a compilation of what has been investigated and reported”. And, he said it merely confirms “that it was an extremely terrible law”.

He added that the report:

lacks a summary of why this terrible law was enacted and existed for 48 years, and fails to mention why the government didn’t take responsibility even after the law was amended…

That is extremely regrettable.

Harm and compensation

Japan is not the only country to legally allow forced sterilisations. An estimated 60,000 Americans were sterilised, as The Huffington Post reported:

Most of these operations were performed before the 1960s in institutions for the so-called “mentally ill” or “mentally deficient.”

Victims of the sterilisation programme in Japan have campaigned for decades seeking recognition of the harm they suffered and compensation. They have also turned to the courts seeking relief.

In 2022, three people were awarded damages in a landmark victory. The Osaka High Court overturned a lower court decision. And it ordered the national government to pay a combined 27.5 million yen ($200,000) to the elderly trio.

But earlier in June, a different high court rejected damages requests by plaintiffs. This court argued that a 20-year statute of limitations had passed. Plaintiff Junko Iizuka, 77, told reporters that the ruling “is a terrible verdict that doesn’t consider why victims couldn’t file lawsuits” sooner. She said:

As the government’s responsibility is obvious, I want to see a quick solution.

Iizuka added that the solution should include more adequate compensation, without the need for continued lawsuits.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via YouTube screenshot/France 24 English

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