Thursday, October 27, 2005

Court split on leprosy rulings

from the Asahi Shimbun:
In conflicting rulings, the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by 117 former leprosy patients from South Korea but upheld a similar lawsuit for compensation by 25 former leprosy patients from Taiwan.

Different judges presided in the cases.

In both cases, the plaintiffs sought government compensation for their suffering as a result of their forced segregation in isolated sanitariums overseas during Japan's colonial rule.

In the case of the Taiwanese plaintiffs, the court said they were entitled to compensation under a 2001 law covering former patients of Hansen's disease. The ruling nullifed a decision by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to withhold compensation.

In the case of the South Korean plaintiffs, the same court said the compensation law does not apply to those who were forcibly hidden from society in sanitariums overseas.

The plaintiffs from Taiwan were segregated at a facility near Taipei, while those from South Korea were held at a national hospital in Sorokto, a tiny island located off the southern coast of the Korean Peninsula.

Leprosy patients worked as forced laborers. Some men were forced to submit to vasectomies and some women to abortions. Forerunners of the two facilities in Taiwan and South Korea were set up by Japanese colonial rulers to contain the disease. The plaintiffs still live in those facilities.

They filed the lawsuits last year to revoke the health ministry's decision to refuse them compensation under the 2001 leprosy compensation law.

In the case involving Taiwanese plaintiffs, the court stressed that the compensation law does not distinguish between Japanese and foreign leprosy patients. Thus, it ruled they were eligible for compensation from the government.

The leprosy compensation law was enacted in 2001 following a ruling that year by the Kumamoto District Court that said the government's policy of segregating leprosy patients was unconstitutional.

In the suit by the Taiwanese plaintiffs, Presiding Judge Hiroyuki Kanno said: "The compensation law is a special measures law designed to widely and thoroughly compensate those who were segregated in facilities. It should be the understanding that the law does not place any restrictions with regard to nationality or residence.

"It would be unfair if the law excluded those from compensation simply because the facility was located in Taiwan. The principle of equal treatment must apply."

In the case of the South Korean plaintiffs, Presiding Judge Toshihiko Tsuruoka stated: "Sanitariums overseas, including those in former colonies, are not recognized as being covered (by the leprosy compensation law).

"Those who were segregated in sanitariums in Japan are subject to the compensation law, but the issue of redress measures for those who were held in facilities overseas is something that must be addressed in the future."

Former leprosy patients in Japan have received lump sums of between 8 million yen and 14 million yen in compensation.

The plaintiffs in both cases, arguing that their suffering was no less than those who had been isolated in Japan, said it would be unfair to deny them compensation especially when a law had been enacted to do precisely that.

Health ministry officials argue that only individuals who were segregated in Japan are eligible for compensation because sanitariums in former colonies were not included in the compensation law at the time of its enactment.

The fact that contradictory rulings were handed down by the same court suggests that lawmakers and health ministry officials were caught off-guard by the Kumamoto District Court's decision and hastily drew up the bill on compensation without giving sufficient attention to all aspects of the matter.


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