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Japan apologizes to those forcibly sterilized, vows redress

Japan's government apologized Wednesday to tens of thousands of victims forcibly sterilized under a now-defunct Eugenics Protection Law and promised to pay compensation.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he was offering "sincere remorse and heartfelt apology" to the victims.

His apology comes just after the parliament enactment earlier Wednesday of legislation to provide redress measures, including 3.2 million yen ($28,600) compensation for each victim.

Health, Welfare and Labor Minister Takumi Nemoto, right, bows after Eugenics Protection Law was passed at parliament's upper house in Tokyo Wednesday, April 25, 2019. Japan's government apologized to tens of thousands of victims forcibly sterilized under the now-defunct Eugenics Protection Law and promised to pay compensation. (Toshiyuki MatsumotoKyodo News via AP)

An estimated 25,000 people were given unconsented sterilization while the 1948 Eugenics Protection Law was in place until 1996. The law was designed to "prevent the birth of poor-quality descendants" and allowed doctors to sterilize people with disabilities. It was quietly renamed as the Maternity Protection Law in 1996, when the discriminatory condition was removed.

The redress legislation acknowledges that many people were forced to have operations to remove their reproductive organs or radiation treatment to get sterilized, causing them tremendous pain mentally and physically.

The government had until recently maintained the sterilizations were legal at the time.

The apology and the redress law follow a series of lawsuits by victims who came forward recently after breaking decades of silence. That prompted lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties to draft a compensation package to make amends for the victims.

The plaintiffs are seeking about 30 million yen each ($268,000) in growing legal actions that are spreading around the country, saying the government's implementation of the law violated the victims' right to self-determination, reproductive health and equality. They say the government redress measures are too small for their suffering.

In addition to the forced sterilizations, more than 8,000 others were sterilized with consent, though likely under pressure, while nearly 60,000 women had abortions because of hereditary illnesses, according to Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

Among them were about 10,000 leprosy patients who had been confined in isolated institutions until 1996, when the leprosy prevention law was also abolished. The government has already offered compensation and an apology to them for its forced isolation policy.

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