First court ruling involving rescue operations in bomb’s aftermath

by Kanako Noda, Staff Writer

Seven plaintiffs recognized as A-bomb survivors by Hiroshima District Court

On March 25, the Hiroshima District Court issued a ruling on a lawsuit filed by seven residents of Hiroshima who were involved in relief or nursing-care activities for A-bomb survivors (hibakusha) in first-aid stations after the atomic bombing. The City of Hiroshima had rejected their applications for the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate as “No. 3 Hibakusha,” an action they argued was illegal. These plaintiffs were demanding that the city’s decision be reversed and 2.2 million yen per person be provided in compensation. Tomoyuki Nonoue, the presiding judge, recognized all the plaintiffs as hibakusha and annulled the city’s original decision, pronouncing, “There can be no denying that people were affected by radiation if, within about two weeks of the atomic bombing, they had spent a considerable amount of time in an environment where many hibakusha gathered.” However, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ demands for compensation.

This is the first ruling on a lawsuit for No. 3 Hibakusha. The decision has, in consideration of the danger of internal exposure, expanded the range of people certified as hibakusha, in line with the purpose of the establishment of the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law. The ruling will likely have an impact on the City of Hiroshima’s administrative practices involving hibakusha.

Judge Nonoue, following the principle laid down by the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, which places emphasis on the healthcare of hibakusha, presented his opinion on the necessary requirements to be certified as No. 3 Hibakusha: “In view of the latest scientific knowledge, application materials for the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate should be screened from the standpoint of whether there are undeniable facts which prove that radiation from the atomic bomb has affected the applicants.” The court then issued individual decisions to seven plaintiffs and declared that the City of Hiroshima illegally rejected the applications of these hibakusha.

The city’s screening guideline for the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate requires applicants to have rescued or cared for 10 or more hibakusha a day. The court criticized the guideline, saying, “The City of Hiroshima introduced this numerical requirement without thoroughly examining whether this requirement had reasonable grounds.” At the same time, the court did not hold the city in breach of its obligations concerning the screening procedure or the establishment of the guideline because the then Ministry of Health and Welfare strongly advised local governments to abide by guidelines that included numerical requirements.

The seven plaintiffs are male and female survivors ranging in age from 65 to 78. After the atomic bombing, they were involved in caring for other survivors at elementary schools or temples in the former Saeki, Aki, or Asa Districts, where a number of hibakusha gathered. One of the plaintiffs was carried on the back of a parent while that parent was engaged in relief work. The City of Hiroshima rejected their applications between August 2002 and January 2005 on the grounds that the city cannot verify sufficient information to meet its screening requirements.

(Originally published on March 26, 2009)

Commentary: Screening guideline in Hiroshima rejected
by Kanako Noda, Staff Writer

The Hiroshima District Court’s decision on March 25, which recognized all seven plaintiffs as hibakusha, is a groundbreaking step in that the ruling, in acknowledging the impact of internal exposure to radiation, has expanded the range of people certified as hibakusha. The plaintiffs’ applications for the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate as No. 3 Hibakusha were rejected by the City of Hiroshima prior to the lawsuit. The court rejected the city’s guideline, which, in judging whether the applicants should be recognized as No. 3 Hibakusha, stressed the importance of the number of patients the applicants attended. The court adopted its own guideline, which put emphasis on the environment where the applicants were and the amount of time they spent in that environment.

Though more than 60 years have passed since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the effect of radiation on the human body is still not fully understood. Given this fact, the court viewed the main principle of the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law to be easing the anxiety of hibakusha in regard to their future. The court indicated that the City of Hiroshima, in light of this principle of the law and the latest scientific knowledge, should give the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate to people other than those directly exposed to the atomic bombing or those who entered the city afterwards, enabling more people to become entitled to relief measures.

According to the City of Hiroshima, in fiscal 2007 it received 63 applications for the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate in the category of No. 3 Hibakusha. Between fiscal 2003 and 2007, about 34 applicants, on average, were annually certified as hibakusha while about 36 applicants, on average, were annually rejected. The “ten-person guideline,” which requires that an applicant substantiate attending to 10 or more hibakusha daily, has made it quite difficult to obtain the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate.

The city’s screening guideline is clearly unreasonable and requires an urgent review. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW), which advised local governments to include the numerical requirement in their guidelines, has also been found responsible. Both the national and local governments need to return to the principle of the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law and revise their administrative practices concerning relief measures for hibakusha. The stance of the Japanese government, as a nation advocating nuclear abolition, is fundamentally being called into question over how it has faced the damage suffered by hibakusha.

No. 3 Hibakusha
No. 3 Hibakusha, as stipulated in category 3 of Article 1 in the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, are hibakusha “who were in an environment where they were physically affected by radiation from the atomic bombing.” They are entitled to obtain the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate along with No. 1 Hibakusha, who were directly exposed to the radiation, No. 2 Hibakusha, who entered Hiroshima City or Nagasaki City within two weeks of the atomic bombings, and No. 4 Hibakusha, who were exposed to radiation when they were in the uteri of their mothers. No. 3 Hibakusha also include those exposed to the fallout of the atomic bombs, or “Black Rain,” other than those engaged in relief work for or transportation of hibakusha. The application materials for the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate are screened by Hiroshima Prefecture, Nagasaki Prefecture, Hiroshima City, and Nagasaki City. Hiroshima City has stipulated No. 3 Hibakusha as “those in direct contact with 10 or more hibakusha a day and engaged in rescue and nursing-care activities.” As of the end of March 2008, there are about 25,000 No. 3 Hibakusha, accounting for 10 percent of all certified hibakusha.

(Originally published on March 26, 2009)

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