Subject: [cwj 153] Japanese leprosy patients sue government
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Thu, 24 May 2001 12:42:47 -0700
Seq: 153

More Japanese leprosy patients sue government

TOKYO, May 21 (AFP) - 

More than 900 Japanese leprosy patients filed a lawsuit Monday seeking
damages from the state for human rights abuses including forced isolation
in leper colonies, sterilization and abortions.

In all 923 patients sued the government at the Tokyo, Okayama and Kumamoto
District Courts seeking damages of 115 million yen (935,000 dollars) per
person, lawyers said.

The new filing brings the total number of plaintiffs in leprosy-related
rights cases to 1,702, plaintiffs' lawyer Naoko Kunimine said.

On May 11 more than 100 leprosy patients won a court ruling ordering the
government to pay 1.82 billion yen to the plaintiffs -- ,an average of
14.33 million yen each. 

The victory marked Japan's first legal judgement on such cases, and shed
light on the plight of former leprosy patients who suffered systematic
discrimination by the state.

Kunimine said the claims against the government in the latest suit were the
same as in the previous ones.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in parliament Monday he wanted to
take an "appropriate decision".

"I am considering how to cope with this ruling, thinking of suffering of
patients," he said.

Leprosy was internationally recognised by 1960 as an illness resulting from
the transmission of an extremely rare virus, which is not contagious.

Effective medication had been developed by the 1940s which would have
allowed the sufferers' to return to society.

But the government maintained its pre-war isolation policy dating from 1907
and retained the notorious 1953 Leprosy Prevention Law, which resulted in
the sterilization of sufferers and forced abortions of unborn children of
sanatorium inmates.

Press reports said the government intended to appeal the May 11 judgment by
the deadline of Friday.

"We wonder whether the government is attempting to prolong resolution once
again," another lawyer Yasuhiro Asanuma said. 

Kunimine pointed out that as time passed the number of plaintiffs would
tail off as their average age was 74.

"We will not let the government appeal. The Kumamoto ruling judged the
totally unnecessary isolation that was conducted for the past 90 years as
the wrong policy," Asanuma said.

According to a government estimate, 1,400 sterilization cases and 3,000
abortions were believed to have been carried out at isolation centres

"Because of the isolation policies, patients marked with Hansen's disease
(leprosy) could not live in the society but in facilities," Asanuma said.

"They suffered damage to every aspect of their lives, as the Kumatomo court
ruling acknowledged."

Many of the leprosy patients never returned home since their families lived
in fear of fierce discrimination. The remains of more than 20,000 former
patients are still reportedly kept at the facilities, waiting to be
collected some day.

By 1955, the government stepped up the isolation policy and moved 15,000
patients, or 91 percent of Japan's leprosy sufferers, into dozens of
treatment facilities, where they reportedly suffered abuses including
forced labour.

The government has always denied its responsibility, insisting that the
measure was based on medical knowledge available at the time. 

It is believed to be concerned that if the Kumamoto ruling goes
unchallenged, it will open the floodgates to damages claims.

"This lawsuit is just one of several ones which have been filed before,"
said a health ministry official who declined to be named.

"We will decide whether to appeal after deliberation with other
ministries," the official said, adding the government would announce its
decision this week.

There are still 4,400 people living at 15 treatment facilities nationwide.

Leprosy is caused by a virus which attacks nerve systems, causing paralysis
and deformation of body parts including hands, feet and the face.

Sufferers can be fully treated with drugs as outpatients without the need
to be isolated.

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