Court ruling on forced sterilization significant for victims seeking redress

There is no doubt that the defunct Eugenic Protection Law, which forced disabled people and others to undergo horrible surgical procedures, resulted in grave human rights violations. The victims are aging, and the government needs to consider relief measures as soon as possible.

In a lawsuit in which a man in Tokyo sought compensation from the government, saying he was forced to be sterilized under the law, the Tokyo High Court ordered the government to pay him ¥15 million.

The now defunct law came into force in 1948 and allowed sterilization for the purpose of “preventing the birth of defective descendants.” Based on this law, 25,000 sterilization surgeries were performed at the government’s recommendation. In some cases, the surgeries were performed without the person being given an explanation or consenting to the procedure.

The Tokyo High Court said in its ruling that the law was unconstitutional, stating, “It was based on a discriminatory ideology and the means used were extremely inhumane.” This was a highly appropriate decision, as legislation that treats certain people as better than others cannot be permitted.

In another case in which three people in the Kinki region sought compensation, the Osaka High Court in February also ruled that the former law was unconstitutional and ordered the government to pay a total of ¥27.5 million.

It is significant that the Tokyo and Osaka high courts have successively recognized the government’s responsibility and ordered compensation. The presiding judge of the Tokyo High Court case broke with common practice to state his view, saying, “I hope that the plaintiff will live happily without being discriminated against because of the surgery he underwent.”

Both high courts can be said to have urged the resolution of the issue and the elimination of discrimination.

The plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed at the district court level because the Civil Code used to have a provision stipulating that the right to demand compensation expires after 20 years from the date of the illegal act.

In response to the plaintiffs’ appeals, the two high courts ruled that it would strongly go against justice to exempt the government from liability solely by applying the stipulation regarding the time limit on bringing charges.

The courts apparently judged that the government cannot escape its responsibility even though the cases were filed after a long period of time.

In 2019, a relief law for victims came into effect to provide a lump sum of ¥3.2 million per person. However, the gap between this and the amount of compensation awarded by the Tokyo and Osaka high courts remains large.

The government has appealed the Osaka High Court ruling to the Supreme Court, claiming that the high court’s ruling incorrectly interprets the time limit on bringing charges. It is also considering appealing the Tokyo High Court’s ruling to the top court. The plaintiff has asked the government not to, saying, “I don’t want the lawsuit to be prolonged any further.”

The government should listen to the voices of the victims and comprehensively consider the pros and cons of the appeal and relief measures.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 20, 2022.