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Health minister, ex-leprosy patients agree to settle.

TOKYO, Jan. 28 Kyodo


Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi signed an agreement with former leprosy patients and their bereaved families on Monday to pave the way for a settlement to be reached later in the week on the state's past policy of isolating leprosy patients.

The out-of-court settlement will call on the government to pay up to 7 million yen in compensation to each of the 16 former patients and a maximum 14 million yen to each of the families of 72 deceased patients.

The settlement is expected to be officially reached at the Kumamoto District Court on Wednesday. The agreement was signed at a ceremony at the ministry at which the minister and the head plaintiff, Kazumi Sogano, 74, shook hands.

The agreement is in line with a settlement recommendation made by the Kumamoto District Court last December. It also includes an apology from the state, admitting its legal responsibility.

Unlike most other leprosy patients in Japan, the plaintiffs were not forced into sanitariums under the 1953 Leprosy Prevention Law that was repealed in 1996. But they claim to have suffered social discrimination under the state policy and say it ruined their lives.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs told a press conference after the ceremony that despite settlement of all lawsuits filed over the former isolation policy, former leprosy patients still face problems such as discrimination.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a regular press conference Monday, ''The government is very pleased with the settlement, which fulfilled patients' long-time wishes and thus is satisfactory.''

''It is extremely important that Japanese society warmly welcome'' the former patients, he said.

The agreement noted that the government is responsible for the isolation policy, which reduced opportunities for leprosy patients to receive treatment outside of sanitariums.

It stipulated the government will run an apology in the media to restore the honor of the former patients.

The plaintiffs and the government also agreed to work to return the ashes of deceased patients from sanitariums to family members as a measure to eliminate prejudice against leprosy patients.

Leprosy patients were often treated as ''untouchables'' in the past and even family members refused to maintain contact with them.

The suit was initially filed with the Kumamoto court in July 1998 by 13 leprosy patients at sanitariums in Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures in southwestern Japan.

In a landmark ruling on May 11 last year, the district court ordered the state to pay a combined 1.8 billion yen in compensation to 127 leprosy patients who were forcibly institutionalized. The government did not appeal.

About 2,100 plaintiffs and the state reached a settlement later in similar suits, and a law was enacted last June to pay between 8 million and 14 million yen each in compensation to former leprosy patients forced into sanitariums.

However, patients who were not sent to the facilities and those who died before the initial suit was lodged were not covered by the law and have filed their own lawsuits.
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Date:Feb 4, 2002
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