Lawsuit against the Japanese government filed by A-bomb survivors in the U.S. and Brazil

by Kanako Noda, Staff Writer

A total of 163 A-bomb survivors (hibakusha) living in the U.S. and Brazil filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government with the Hiroshima District Court on October 6. Their demands include compensation of 1.2 million yen per person for pain and suffering. They contend that this emotional distress is due to the government’s disregard for their rights as hibakusha under the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law. In one instance, their receipt of an allowance for health care was discontinued on the grounds that they are not residents of Japan.

The claim is the first class action lawsuit by A-bomb survivors living outside Japan. An estimated 2,600 hibakusha in South Korea, with the largest population of overseas survivors, are also moving forward with preparations for a lawsuit at the Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Osaka District Courts.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the U.S. and Brazil state that their clients experienced the atomic bombings in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Among them, 83 plaintiffs, including two bereaved family members, reside in the U.S. and 80 reside in Brazil. Except for two, all hold an official Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate.

  The lawsuit maintains that a directive issued by the Health and Welfare Ministry in 1974 blocked the plaintiffs from being able to access relief measures, including the Health Management Allowance. The directive stipulated that A-bomb survivors residing outside Japan would lose these entitlements. The plaintiffs assert that they “suffered tremendous emotional pain and suffering by being denied relief measures under the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law.”

At a press conference after bringing their case before the court, lead attorney Noriaki Nikoku explained, “By rights, the Japanese government should take the initiative and offer an apology and payment for pain and suffering, but as the hibakusha are aging, we had no choice but to file this lawsuit.” Kazuyuki Tamura, a professor of law at Ryukoku University and head of the Association to Support the Lawsuit of the A-bomb Survivors Living in the U.S. and Brazil, remarked, “The burdens this lawsuit imposes on the survivors makes this a frustrating step, but we hope the lawsuit will bring them proper medical support.”

Commentary: Prompt action to provide compensation is essential

by Masami Nishimoto, Senior Staff Writer

The reason A-bomb survivors living overseas have filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government demanding compensation for damages is due to the fact that for years they have been cut off from relief measures available to hibakusha in Japan. A case in point is “Directive No. 402,” issued by the former Ministry of Health and Welfare in 1974, which prevented survivors abroad from receiving the Health Management Allowance. As the Supreme Court has judged this directive illegal, the central government should not contest their claim, but should instead promptly move toward providing compensation to the estimated 4,200 A-bomb survivors living overseas.

In November 2007, the Supreme Court ruled on a case in which South Koreans who had been conscribed as laborers by the former Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Hiroshima demanded that the government pay 1.2 million yen per plaintiff in compensation. The court deemed that “Due to the unlawful directive, the plaintiffs were forced to suffer health damage caused by the atomic bombing and endure difficult lives for many years.”

However, in regard to A-bomb survivors who are not already plaintiffs in lawsuits filed by hibakusha organizations overseas, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare stated this past August that the government “will only provide compensation if a lawsuit has been filed and an out-of-court settlement reached,” making the filing of lawsuits a prerequisite to receive damages. However, this requirement, as supporters of the hibakusha argue, is certain to “impose further burdens” on aging survivors who find it difficult to travel to Japan to participate in lawsuits.

“Hibakusha are hibakusha, no matter where they reside,” Kwak Kwi Hoon, an A-bomb survivor from South Korea, has declared. In the wake of his case, concluded in 2002, in which the plaintiff prevailed in his demand to receive an allowance after leaving Japan, the government repealed its directive in 2003. Moreover, the revised Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, which enables applications for the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate to be submitted without visiting Japan in person, will be implemented this December. Even so, hibakusha living overseas still cannot receive the same level of assistance as A-bomb survivors in Japan. For instance, all medical expenses for hibakusha in Japan are shouldered by the central government, but medical care for survivors abroad is constricted by a ceiling of 145,000 yen annually.

A-bomb survivors living in South Korea, estimated to be approximately 2,600 as of September 2008, the largest group of hibakusha overseas, are proceeding with preparations for their own lawsuit demanding damages. For the plaintiffs involved in the claim brought by survivors in the U.S. and Brazil, local hibakusha organizations have been vigorous allies in providing information. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, though, should universally inform A-bomb survivors living overseas of the necessity of filing lawsuits, as it has insisted. The ministry should disseminate this information to North Korea as well, where an estimated 380 hibakusha reside. Unless the ministry undertakes this action, a new “division” among A-bomb survivors overseas, marked by inadequate support for some, could be created.

(Originally published on October 7, 2008)

Related articles
Former soldier from South Korea applies for A-bomb disease certification (Sept. 27, 2008)
Dissatisfaction with government’s stance in regard to compensation for A-bomb survivors abroad (Aug. 28, 2008)
Revised law enables A-bomb survivors abroad to apply for official recognition from outside Japan (June 20, 2008)