By SHUYA IWAMOTO/ Staff Writer
August 4, 2021 at 18:36 JST
Kimiko Kobayashi, far left, her husband, Takaji, and Yumi Suzuki speak about the ruling on their lawsuit over forced sterilizations at a news conference in Kobe on Aug. 3. (Ryo Ioka)
KOBE--A district court here became the first to rule that lawmakers’ failure to swiftly scrap provisions on forced sterilizations under the former Eugenic Protection Law was illegal.
Five residents of Hyogo Prefecture sued the state over forced sterilizations under the old Eugenic Protection Law, which were aimed at “preventing the birth of inferior offspring” and were performed on people with various disabilities.
The plaintiffs had sought 55 million yen ($504,300) in compensation.
The Kobe District Court on Aug. 3 found the eugenics law to be unconstitutional, saying it robbed the plaintiffs of opportunities to decide on whether to have children.
But the district court rejected their compensation claims because the 20-year statute of limitations had expired.
The lawsuit was filed by Kimiko Kobayashi, 88, who has hearing impairments and her husband, Takaji, 89; a hearing-impaired man in his 80s who died last November and his wife; and Yumi Suzuki, 65, who has cerebral palsy.
The surviving plaintiffs said they plan to appeal the decision.
The ruling was the sixth so far, and all have rejected the plaintiffs’ compensation claims. Three past rulings also found the former Eugenic Protection Law to be unconstitutional.
The aim of the eugenics law was “extremely inhumane,” according to the Aug. 3 ruling.
The Kobe District Court ruled that the provisions on forced sterilizations violated three articles of the Constitution: Article 13, which guarantees the right to self-determination; Article 14, which states that all people are equal under the law; and Article 24, which stipulates that laws regarding families shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the equality of the sexes.
The district court also found that lawmakers’ inaction on the forced sterilization provisions until 1996, when the eugenics law was revised and renamed the Maternal Health Law, violated the State Redress Law.
The ruling said the provisions in question inflicted great mental suffering on not only those who underwent forced sterilizations but also their spouses, who became unable to have children because of the operations.
The Kobe District Court used the period between 1960 and 1968 when the plaintiffs were sterilized as the basis for the start of the statute of limitations.
It said the plaintiffs could have realized that the forced sterilizations were unjust in 1996, when the old Eugenic Protection Law was revised, and could have taken legal action even if they were unable to do so at the time of the operations.
The court concluded that the compensation request had to be rejected because the statute of limitations had expired.
The ruling also noted that the provisions on forced sterilizations had existed for nearly half a century since it took effect in 1948 and have significantly infringed on individual dignity. That fact should be taken seriously, the ruling said.
The district court also said it hopes necessary and appropriate measures will be taken to address the suffering of a number of victims and policies will be proactively implemented to eliminate deep-rooted prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities brought by the former Eugenic Protection Law.
The health ministry released a statement saying it understands that the Kobe District Court accepted the government’s claim that it does not have the responsibility under the provisions of the State Redress Law over the matter.
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