Use decision not to appeal leprosy case as chance to fight discrimination

The Yomiuri ShimbunHaving a former Hansen’s disease patient in one’s family made people the subject of discrimination and prejudice. The decision not to appeal the court ruling must serve as a springboard to change the current unreasonable situation.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government will not appeal a Kumamoto District Court ruling that ordered the state to pay damages to family members of former patients of the disease also known as leprosy. “We can’t let the sufferings of the family members, who have gone through indescribable experiences, last any longer,” Abe said.

It certainly is a decision that puts priority on early relief for the plaintiffs and others.

The district court ruling said the state’s isolation policy created discrimination against family members of former patients, and it broadly recognized the responsibility of the government and the Diet. In addition to the responsibility of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which handles Hansen’s disease policy, the ruling pointed to the culpability of the Justice Ministry and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, which are in charge of human rights awareness and education.

The ruling reflected the court’s own interpretation of when to begin calculations for the statute of limitations on state compensation, leading to the relief of the plaintiffs.

As a result, some in the government strongly felt it should appeal the ruling, to see the judgment of higher courts. There also is the fact that similar cases are pending in the Supreme Court after the state won at the district and high court levels.

Relief framework needed

Given legal aspects and other factors, the hurdle was high for the government to accept the district court ruling. A political decision was apparently needed by the prime minister to overcome it.

With the decision not to appeal the ruling, the obligation to pay damages totaling ¥376 million will be finalized. Focus from now on will turn to the relief of family members who did not join in the court case.

The plaintiffs in the latest case include a range of people, from spouses to children and siblings of former patients. Therefore, the amount of damages ordered by the district court varied for each plaintiff.

When extending relief to family members who were not plaintiffs in the case, what types of connection with former patients will be eligible? How can the discrimination a person suffered be recognized? A framework for relief must be created.

The 2008 law to promote the resolution of issues related to Hansen’s disease stipulates restoring dignity and improving the well-being of former patients. The plaintiffs and others urge the revision of this law to explicitly state that family members of former patients are victims, and call for recompense to be provided.

It appears it will be the government’s duty to proceed with policy measures to eliminate discrimination from society, in addition to extending financial compensation.

What was unveiled in this lawsuit is that discrimination against family members of former patients occurred in the past and continues today. Not a few people suffered from discrimination in marriage and harassment at workplaces.

The reality that society allowed the discrimination must be dealt with squarely. It is a matter of course for relevant government ministries and agencies to work to spread correct knowledge and wipe out prejudice, but it is also essential for each individual to have an awareness of respecting human rights.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 10, 2019)Speech


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