People were kept in sanatoriums whilst their relatives faced obstacles to entering schools, finding work and getting married. For the prime minister, the victims endured "extremely severe prejudice and discrimination in society." A ruling by a court in Kumamoto offers compensation to relatives.
Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally apologised on behalf of the government to family members of leprosy patients, victims of its segregation policies between 1907 and 1996.
The government also decided against appealing a recent court ruling ordering the state to pay compensation.
Abe acknowledged as a "hard fact" that the patients and families endured "extremely severe prejudice and discrimination in society."
"The government deeply reflects on the pain and suffering endured by current and former leprosy patients and their family members, and offers a heartfelt apology," Abe said in a statement endorsed Friday by the Cabinet.
"I myself would like to express this feeling by meeting with family members," the prime minister said.
No date has been fixed and details of any meeting need to be worked out, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
For family members, the apology is a milestone, coming nearly two decades after then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologised to former leprosy patients in 2001 over the segregation policy.
Today was also the deadline for the government to decide whether to appeal the 28 June ruling by the Kumamoto District Court, which ordered the state to pay a total of about 376 million yen (US$ 3.47 million) in damages to 541 out of the 561 plaintiffs.
The ruling was the first of its kind in awarding compensation to family members of former leprosy patients.
The court pointed out the state acted illegally by failing to end segregation by 1960, when the need for the policy was lost due to progress in medicine, and retaining it under the leprosy prevention law until 1996.
The ruling recognised that the government's segregation policy made it difficult for patients' family members to enter schools, find jobs and get married.