Dissatisfaction with government’s stance in regard to compensation for A-bomb survivors abroad

by Masakazu Domen, Staff Writer

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has officially expressed its stance in regard to state compensation for A-bomb survivors living abroad who have been denied relief measures stipulated by the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law on the grounds that they are not residents of Japan. In a discussion on August 11 with hibakusha organizations from South Korea and Brazil, the ministry said that it was poised to provide compensation for survivors overseas, even if they had not filed lawsuits, on one condition: “If they file a lawsuit against the Japanese government, compensation will be provided after the case is settled out-of-court.” The hibakusha organizations, however, demanded that “the government provide compensation after the administrative procedures for this are in order.”

Participants in the discussion included Kim Yong Gil, 67, President of the South Korean Atomic Bomb Sufferers Association, and Kunihiko Bonkohara, 68, a board member of the Association of A-bomb Survivors in Brazil.

In a lawsuit against the Japanese government and other organizations, filed by former laborers who had worked for Hiroshima-based Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the Supreme Court made its ruling in November 2007. The court declared that the former Ministry of Welfare’s directive, whereby A-bomb survivors living abroad are not entitled to relief measures, is against the law and it ordered that the plaintiffs be provided 1.2 million yen per person in state compensation. Based on this ruling, hibakusha organizations have demanded similar compensation for all A-bomb survivors overseas, contending that “All hibakusha living abroad have suffered due to this unlawful directive. The government should provide compensation proactively, rather than waiting for lawsuits to be filed by the survivors.”

However, an official of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare stated, “Considering the nature of state compensation, court rulings are prerequisite. If courts determine each plaintiff’s case, the government will not dispute these findings and the cases can then be settled out-of-court.”

At a press conference after their discussion with ministry officials, President Kim spoke critically of the government’s stance, asking, “Why is the government forcing elderly hibakusha living abroad to file lawsuits? The Supreme Court decision has already been made so this is a complete waste for both sides.” Unless the ministry offers a more satisfactory response by August 29, President Kim indicated that the entire membership of his organization, approximately 2,700 survivors, may file lawsuits.

Commentary: Government’s stance cannot be justified

The Supreme Court decision of November 2007 has clearly highlighted the negligence of the Japanese government in implementing an unlawful directive which has failed to provide support, under the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, to A-bomb survivors residing abroad. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare should now naturally assume its responsibility and promptly deliver reparations. Instead, it now demands that these hibakusha file lawsuits to receive compensation, an onerous burden. Such a stance cannot be justified.

The ministry contends that the state compensation ordered by the Supreme Court is payment for pain and suffering and therefore, “It is prerequisite that the person himself apply for compensation for his pain and suffering.” It also argues that, as long as the state pays compensation, “The process of filing lawsuits and settling the cases out-of-court is necessary.”

However, if the filing of lawsuits is considered prerequisite, this will require aging A-bomb survivors living abroad to undertake legal action and even, in some cases, be obligated to visit Japan in person. This requirement is completely contrary to the intent of the Supreme Court ruling. Moreover, the philosophy of the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, revised in June 2008 to make hibakusha overseas entitled to obtain the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate without traveling to Japan, is being ignored.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare states that, after these lawsuits are settled out-of-court, every plaintiff will be provided 1.2 million yen. However, some survivors reside in Europe, which lacks a support base for hibakusha, and others live in North Korea, a nation without diplomatic ties to Japan. As a consequence, the situation can hardly be called fair since the opportunity for each hibakusha to file a lawsuit varies significantly from person to person. It is incumbent upon the Ministry of Welfare, which delivered the unlawful directive, to create a new system for satisfactory compensation rather than forcing hibakusha to file lawsuits.

(Originally published on August 12, 2008)

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