Former health minister supports compensation for forced sterilization victims

From The Mainichi

June 13th 2018

TOKYO — Chikara Sakaguchi, the first Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare in 2001, said that it is “important” to compensate those who underwent forced sterilization surgeries under the defunct eugenics protection law (1948-1996) in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun.

he 84-year-old former minister also showed support for the multipartisan group of lawmakers aiming to submit a bill during next year’s regular Diet session to offer redress for the victims. “I am expecting a swift conclusion to offer aid (to those who were forcibly sterilized under the law),” Sakaguchi said.

Sakaguchi, a physician from Mie Prefecture, became the health minister after the eugenics protection law was revised. When the Kumamoto District Court ruled in May 2001 that the government must compensate Hansen’s disease patients who received discriminatory treatment under state control, Sakaguchi apologized to the patients just three days later. The longest-serving health minister retired as a Diet member in 2012.

Sakaguchi stated in the Diet in 2004 that he would like to “consider in the future” compensating victims of forced sterilization operations mandated by the national government.

That remark is a focal point in the lawsuit filed against the state for compensation by a woman in her 60s from Miyagi Prefecture who underwent eugenic surgery at age 15.

In the second round of oral argument in the trial on June 13 at the Sendai District Court, the plaintiff plans to claim that Sakaguchi’s Diet statement pointed to government neglect in drafting compensation measures for forced surgery victims. In response, the government side is set to deny any obligation to set up a redress system, citing the existence of the State Redress Act.

Sakaguchi’s 2004 statement emphasized the importance of creating just such a relief system, and aligned with the views of other former health ministers Hidehisa Otsuji, Yasuhisa Shiozaki and other members of the multipartisan group of lawmakers moving to introduce the bill next year.

“When you think about it now, it was an egregious violation of human rights, and was a huge mistake,” Sakaguchi said during his interview with the Mainichi Shimbun. “The law should have been revised much sooner.” Of his 2004 comment in the Diet, he explained, “I felt that it was a problem concerning human rights, and I think I testified that the handling of the situation needed to be considered.”

Meanwhile, as for why the calls in the Diet and wider Japanese society to compensate the victims did not spread when he originally made his comment, Sakaguchi suggested the limits of the times. Now, he could not hide his high hopes for the moves to compensate the victims gaining momentum across Japan.

Still, only a portion of the records for individuals who were subjected to the surgeries have been found.

On this point, the former minister expressed concern. “If it becomes a situation where those with evidence are compensated and those without are not, then we run the risk of forcing victims to relive their trauma,” he said. In the trial, it is important to take into account the possibility of reaching an out of court settlement, Sakaguchi added.

Sakaguchi also pointed out the similarity between the defunct law and the former national policy of forced isolation of Hansen’s disease patients. “What was at the foundation of those policies was a nationalistic ideology that considered the Japanese as an excellent race paralleling Western Europeans and called for the removal of inferior people,” he said. Such thinking prompted discriminatory policies and treatment against the handicapped in Japanese society, Sakaguchi added.

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