Photo/IllutrationNorihisa Tamura, second from left, a former welfare minister, and other Diet members hold a news conference on March 14 regarding a bill to provide support to those who underwent forced sterilizations. (Satoru Iizuka)

Draft bipartisan legislation to compensate people who were sterilized under a widespread and decades-long eugenics program that stretched into the 1990s falls far short of its objective of providing satisfactory relief to victims.

Both the ruling and opposition parties should take seriously the chorus of complaints and protests arising among victims.

The ruling coalition’s working group and a nonpartisan group of lawmakers have together worked out the bill. The lawmakers plan to submit the bill to the Diet in April with an eye to enacting and swiftly implementing the measure.

Under the program, which was based on the Eugenic Protection Law, thousands of people with physical, intellectual or mental disabilities were forcibly sterilized until the law was abolished in 1996.

The legislation would provide lump-sum payments of 3.2 million yen ($28,600) to each of the victims in response to their applications for relief, which would, in principle, be screened by a panel of experts.

But the requests for compensation would be handled in a flexible manner. In cases where authentic documents proving the eligibility of applicants are presented, for instance, the screening process can be omitted.

One good thing about the bill is that it tries to ensure that the relief program will cover a wide range of victims, including those who can no longer be identified or contacted through current records and those who underwent operations not designated by the old law.

But there are also quite a few surviving victims who are not even aware that they had the operation because of their disabilities and whose parents and relatives who knew about it are deceased.

If relief is provided only to victims who come forward, the program will unlikely provide relief to a wide range of those who were sterilized under the program.

The bill calls on the central and local governments to take effective steps to make the procedures for applications widely known and provide necessary counseling and support. But it is probably necessary to send notices to individual victims. The drafters of the bill should figure out a way to do so while protecting the recipients' privacy.

In determining the amount given to victims, the legislators used a similar compensation system in Sweden, which started paying cash to victims of an eugenics program two decades ago, for reference while taking into account relevant currency exchange and price data.

But victims have filed damages suits with seven district courts across the nation demanding as much as more than 30 million yen in compensation. One case involves a woman in Miyagi Prefecture who took legal action in January last year.

The proposed amount of compensation is so much less than what these plaintiffs are demanding that their disappointment and resentment are fully understandable.

A better relief program has been created for victims of an old program to forcefully quarantine people with Hansen’s disease. A new law to compensate victims of the program, also established under the initiative of lawmakers, pays 8 million to 14 million yen each, figures based on the amounts of damages granted by courts.

Senior members of the ruling coalition say they hastily drafted the eugenics compensation bill because victims are already advanced in age.

But many victims have criticized the way the lawmakers have worked out the bill without waiting for the court rulings on the lawsuits.

The preamble of the bill states, “We, from our respective positions, earnestly search our souls (over the program) and apologize from our heart” to victims. It also says, “We renew our determination to make all possible efforts to realize a society of a cooperative way of life in order to ensure that such a tragedy will never occur again.”

Since the Eugenic Protection Law was enacted under the initiative of lawmakers, the Diet will also consider a resolution to apologize to victims of the program.

But the lawmakers need to demonstrate their “determination” by first creating a system to provide satisfactory relief to victims.

It is still unclear why this policy, which trampled on the human rights of so many people, was developed in the first place and allowed to remain in place for nearly five decades until the law was abolished. It is also a mystery why no serious attempt was made to offer apologies and compensation to victims for so long despite the fact that as many as 25,000 people were sterilized.

It is essential to make serious efforts to clear up these and other key questions concerning the inhuman policy.

This issue poses an acid test of the level of lawmakers’ commitment to responding to a disastrous past policy mistake.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 15