Japan’s prime minister said Tuesday that the government will abide by a court ruling ordering it to compensate former leprosy patients’ families over a lengthy segregation policy that severed family ties and caused long-lasting prejudice.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government will not appeal the Kumamoto District Court’s decision in June awarding compensation to more than 500 plaintiffs for financial and psychological suffering due to discrimination in education, jobs and marriage.
“The families have already gone through indescribable hardships, and we can’t prolong that any further,” Abe told reporters, adding that part of the ruling is unacceptable to the government. “It is an exceptional case, but we decided not to appeal.”
The plaintiffs welcomed the move, but opposition lawmakers raised scepticism about Abe’s announcement, which came just ahead of July 21 upper house elections.
The 561 plaintiffs demanded 5.5 million yen ($52,000) each for their suffering. The court ordered the government to pay 370 million yen ($3.4 million) in damages to 541 of the families. The court said the government failed to end segregation until 1996, decades after leprosy, or Hansen’s disease became curable.
More than 12,000 leprosy patients were kept in 14 isolated sanatoriums across the country, and many were also forcibly sterilized. Many remained at the sanatoriums even after the termination of the segregation policy in 1996, fearing discrimination and with ties to their families severed. About 1,500 of the former patients remain at the facilities today.
The court ruling blamed legislative negligence by Japan’s parliament for destroying the families and causing tremendous damage to their lives.
A 2001 court decision declared the segregation policy unconstitutional and prompted the government reparations, but only to former patients, leaving out their families.