Japan’s first-ever compensation over forced sterilizations awarded

A court in Osaka has issued a landmark ruling in favor of victims of a program abolished in 1996

On Tuesday, the Osaka High Court ordered Japan’s central government to pay compensation to three people who underwent forced sterilization as part of a now-defunct eugenics program. The plaintiffs – a hearing-impaired couple in their 70s and a woman with a mental disability in her 80s – are now eligible for a total of ¥27.5 million ($239,660) in damages.

The ruling is the country’s first in favor of the plaintiffs in this matter, with cases filed by other victims of the scheme rejected on the grounds that the 20-year statute of limitations had long since expired.

The court said the statute should not apply in cases related to the eugenics law, and that, if it did, it would “extremely contravene justice and fairness,” as it would have been very difficult for these particular victims to have sued the government at all, let alone within the allotted timeframe. The couple underwent their respective surgeries in 1974, while the other plaintiff, was sterilized around 1965.

The court branded the now-defunct legislation – which was only abolished in June 1996 – “inhumane and discriminatory,” accusing the country’s lawmakers of “negligence” for adopting it in the first place. However, the damages awarded to the plaintiffs are significantly lower than the combined ¥55 million ($477,880) they had originally sought.

Officials have voiced their displeasure at the ruling, with Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto calling the decision of the court “very severe.” The government will examine the ruling and decide whether it will appeal it, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has signaled.

The eugenics law, which was in force between 1948 and 1996, targeted people in Japan who had disabilities and other “defects” in order to prevent the birth of what were described as “inferior” offspring. Some 25,000 people with disabilities were sterilized as part of the program, including around 16,500 who were operated on without their consent.

Over two decades after the legislation was abolished, Tokyo adopted a scheme for the victims, with each individual who underwent forced sterilization eligible for a lump sum of ¥3.2 million (some $27,800) to compensate them for their “physical and mental suffering.” The scheme has faced criticism for paying the same, relatively small sum to all the victims, rather than investigating each case individually. According to local reports, fewer than 1,000 people have so far received compensation.

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