Photo/IllutrationPlaintiffs in a lawsuit over forced sterilization at a meeting in Sendai on March 20 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to issue a statement to victims of a forced sterilization program but will not touch on the issue of the state's responsibility or its failure to address the matter.

The statement, to be issued with a similar one by health minister Takumi Nemoto, is intended for release when the Diet enacts legislation to provide relief for the thousands of people forcibly sterilized under the Eugenic Protection Law that was in force from 1948 to 1996.

According to sources, the statements will sidestep the issues of the unconstitutional nature of the law and state responsibility.

It is rare for the government to issue such statements before courts hand down rulings in lawsuits seeking compensation from the state.

According to lawyers, 20 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits at seven district courts across the country. The first ruling is expected to be handed down at the Sendai District Court on May 28.

A relief bill submitted by lawmakers that was unanimously approved in a Lower House plenary session on April 11 is expected to win Upper House passage before month's end.

It stipulates lump-sum payments of 3.2 million yen ($28,600) to each victim.

The bill's preamble reads, “We, in our respective positions, earnestly search our souls and deeply apologize from our heart.”

The proposed legislation does not refer to the unconstitutional nature of the Eugenic Protection Law or the responsibility of the state as such matters are now being debated in court.

Lawmakers of the ruling and opposition camps who drew up the relief bill explained that the “We” in the preamble refers to the Diet, which passed the Eugenic Protection Law, and the government, which enforced the law.

A high-ranking health ministry official explained, “As the government is included in the word ‘We,’ it is a matter of course for the government to express its position in the form of a prime minister’s statement.”

The statement is expected to pledge government efforts to provide lump-sum payments quickly and realize a society in which people with disabilities can coexist with everyone else.

Forcible sterilization was aimed at preventing "births of inferior children" and targeted those with physical, intellectual or mental disabilities. About 25,000 people underwent the procedure.

An official of the prime minister’s office said that as court trials are now under way, the statement will not admit the government was at fault.

Rather, the contents of the statement will be within the parameters of the preamble of the relief bill.

The prime minister’s statement will not require Cabinet approval.

Victims of the Eugenic Protection Law insist that the statement should clearly say the state will apologize rather than refer vaguely to “We.”

There will almost certainly be a backlash without a formal apology and a declaration of the state's responsibility.

Even so, the government plans to issue the statement before the Sendai District Court ruling.

The timing, according to a ruling party lawmaker who worked on the relief bill, is due to the fact that “even if the ruling is favorable for the victims or for the government, the lawsuit is bound to go to the Supreme Court.”

For that reason, settling the issue via the courts is expected to be a time-consuming process.

An opposition party lawmaker commented that the statement seemed intended to improve the image of the Abe administration in light of recent scandals that involved the successive resignations of a vice land minister and the Olympics minister.

The ruling and opposition parties plan to win Diet approval of the bill on April 26 at the latest as 10 days of consecutive holidays start from April 27.

Another consideration is that Abe is scheduled to visit Europe and the United States from April 22 to 29.

This means he may not be in Japan to explain the statement or deliver it in his own words.

However, the senior health ministry official said that should not pose a problem as the statement can be released in written form.