Japan forcibly sterilised her to prevent ‘inferior’ offspring. Now she wants justice and compensation

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A woman in her 60s filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking 11 million yen (US$101,000) in damages and an apology from the Japanese government over her forced sterilisation when she was a teenager under a now-defunct eugenics law.

The woman in Miyagi Prefecture filed the first such suit in Japan at the Sendai District Court, saying the state failed to legislate for relief measures despite the serious human rights infringement. She also claimed the 1948 law denied human equality and the right to pursue happiness and was therefore unconstitutional.

“We’ve had agonising days … we stood up to make this society brighter,” the woman’s sister-in-law said at a televised press conference.

Asked about the lawsuit, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato declined to comment, saying he was not aware of the details of the case.

The state has not apologised or provided compensation to the around 25,000 people who were sterilised due to mental or other illness under the law that remained in force until 1996, saying it was legal at the time.

In 2016, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended that Japan adopt “specific measures aimed at providing all victims of forced sterilisations with assistance to access legal remedies and provide them with compensation and rehabilitative services.”

Court documents show the woman developed psychological problems following cleft palate surgery in 1958 and was diagnosed with a mental disorder at age 15 in 1972.

After undergoing sterilisation based on the decision of a local review panel, the woman suffered stomach pains and a number of marriage proposals were withdrawn once the suitors discovered she was unable to have children, the documents said.

The eugenics protection law authorised the sterilisation of people with mental disabilities and illness or hereditary disorders to prevent births of “inferior” offspring. It also allowed for forcible abortions.

The legislation, which drew on a similar Nazi Germany law, was scrapped in 1996. Germany and Sweden had similar eugenics laws and the governments there have apologised and paid compensation to the victims.

Lawyers for the woman said it was obvious that the state should have provided relief to those affected.

A Kumamoto District Court ruling on leprosy patients in 2001 criticised their sterilisation as “inhumane,” while bar associations have also called for legal remedies.

The local bar association in Miyagi Prefecture will set up a call centre on the issue on Friday and is asking other bar associations across the country to do the same.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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