Photo/IllutrationLawyer Koji Niisato, left, and a 75-year-old man who was forcibly sterilized, respond to questions at a March 14 news conference in Tokyo after legislation was compiled to provide relief to victims of a postwar eugenics policy. (Kotaro Ebara)

Victims who were forcibly sterilized under a postwar eugenics policy immediately criticized proposed legislation on relief measures, saying the plan is woefully insufficient in terms of compensation and accountability.

A multipartisan group of lawmakers and a working team of ruling coalition Diet members on March 14 agreed on the legislation, which would provide payments of 3.2 million yen ($29,000) per victim and offer an apology.

About 25,000 people are believed to have undergone forced sterilization procedures under the Eugenic Protection Law that was scrapped in 1996 and renamed the Maternal Health Law.

The old law was intended to sterilize disabled people to prevent “the birth of inferior offspring.”

The lawmakers are expected to submit the bill to the Diet in April for passage the same month.

The agreement came after victims filed lawsuits around the country against the government. The plaintiffs argue that the Eugenic Protection Law was unconstitutional because it violated their right to decide on whether they wanted to bear children.

Lawyers indicated that the proposal will not end the litigation.

One problem, they said, was that the apology in the bill does not clearly state who is apologizing.

A general “we” was used in the proposal to “seriously reflect and express a heartfelt apology” for the “enormous physical and psychological suffering endured” by the victims.

“Considering the fact that the state committed grave violations of human rights based on an unconstitutional law, the subject offering the apology should have been ‘the state,’” one of the lawyers said.

The Eugenic Protection Law was enacted in 1948 after the Diet passed a bill submitted by individual lawmakers instead of the Cabinet, as is the normal procedure. Putting “the state” or “the Diet” in the proposal’s apology could sway opinion in the ongoing lawsuits against the government.

Norihisa Tamura, a former welfare minister who chaired the ruling coalition working team on the legislation, defended the wording.

“‘We’ includes the government and Diet and may also more widely cover local governments and all of society that at one time accepted eugenics as necessary,” he said.

The compensation amount outlined in the legislation was also blasted as inadequate.

“The individuals had their rights to decide to bear and raise children violated, so a one-time payment of 3.2 million yen will do nothing to recover the damage done,” Koji Niisato, a lawyer representing plaintiffs, said at a news conference in Tokyo on March 14.

Many of the plaintiffs are seeking between 11 million yen and 38.5 million yen in compensation from the central government.

The multipartisan group and ruling coalition working team were formed in March 2018, two months after a woman in her 60s in Miyagi Prefecture became the first person to file a compensation lawsuit against the government over the forced sterilizations.

She said the Eugenic Protection Law was unconstitutional because it trampled on fundamental human rights, adding that the state did nothing for decades to provide any form of support.

Subsequently, 20 individuals have filed similar lawsuits in seven district courts around Japan.

"I have suffered for 60 years,” a 75-year-old man in Tokyo who jointly leads the group of victims and family members, said at the March 14 news conference. “I want the government to apologize and admit that it was wrong.”

Even lawmakers admitted to flaws in the bill. But they said they wanted to quickly deal with the matter considering the advanced age of many of the victims.

"We acknowledge the bill does not respond to the feelings (of the victims), but we wanted to take a first step” toward providing relief, said Hidehisa Otsuji, another former welfare minister who headed the multipartisan panel.

Other provisions in the legislation call for individuals to submit requests seeking recognition as victims.

If no medical records remain, a panel set up under the welfare ministry would determine if an individual qualifies for compensation. The panel would make its decisions based on explanations from the individual and others involved, as well as the diagnosis written by doctors.

(This article was compiled from reports by Tomohiro Hamada, Keishi Nishimura, Sakura Funazaki and Yoko Tanaka.)