Japan – A lawsuit for forced sterilization

To read on The Mainichi website:

Gov’t demands dismissal of forced sterilization damages claim

SENDAI (Kyodo) — The Japanese government on Wednesday demanded the dismissal of a compensation claim filed by a woman in her 60s with intellectual disabilities over her forced sterilization when she was a teenager under the now-defunct eugenic protection law.

In the first such trial in Japan at the Sendai District Court, the woman from Miyagi Prefecture in northeastern Japan is seeking 11 million yen ($104,000) in damages from the state, claiming it failed to take legislative measures to save the victims from « grave human rights violations. »

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has maintained that forced sterilization was legal at the time under the law, which was in force from 1948 to 1996. The law authorized the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness or hereditary disorders to prevent births of « inferior » offspring.

Koji Niisato, who heads the woman’s legal team, said in the first hearing on Wednesday, « A (sterilization) surgery breaches fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Constitution as it deprives the disabled of their right to decide on their own whether to bear and raise a child. »

Calling for early relief measures as many victims are getting old, Niisato said their opportunities for marriage had been « taken away » and they endured « immeasurable physical and psychological pain. »

The trial comes amid increasing attention on the issue, with lawmakers forming a bipartisan group to study relief measures for people who were sterilized under the law. The health ministry has also decided to conduct a nationwide survey on forced sterilization.

According to the suit, the woman was diagnosed with « hereditary feeble-mindedness » at age 15 in 1972 and was forcibly sterilized following a screening by a prefectural panel. After the surgery, she routinely suffered from stomachache and went through mental anguish, with a prospective marriage broken off because of the sterilization.

Around 25,000 people were sterilized under the law, some 16,500 without their consent. The state has not apologized or provided compensation to them and victims in Hokkaido and Tokyo have decided to or are planning to file lawsuits following the example of the Miyagi woman.

Many supporters, including people with disabilities, gathered at the Sendai court Wednesday wearing pink ribbon bracelets to show their solidarity with the plaintiff.

Akihito Nagata, a 29-year-old university student from the city of Sendai who developed multiple sclerosis at the age of 21, came to the site in a wheelchair. « I want the government to acknowledge that (sterilization) was an inhumane act. I want to hear an apology, » he said.

Katsumi Yamamoto, a 79-year-old counselor who in the 1970s joined a movement including disabled people that opposes the law, said, « We have finally come this far. Now our fully-fledged battle begins. »

Despite the law’s repeal in 1996, discrimination against the disabled runs deep in Japan. In 2016, a former worker at a care home for the mentally disabled in Sagamihara near Tokyo fatally stabbed 19 residents, believing the « disabled should be eradicated. »

The law modeled on Nazi Germany’s sterilization law was enacted in 1948 as a measure to control the population at a time when Japan faced a postwar food shortage. However, it remained in force until 1996, when the food issue was no longer a problem.

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