Japan court rejects payout for sterilised 'eugenics' victims

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Tokyo (AFP)

Men and women who were forcibly sterilised under a now-defunct eugenics law had their bid for compensation rejected on Tuesday by a Japanese court, which said the statute of limitations had passed.

The court ruled that the law, which remained in force until 1996, "was unconstitutional", local media said.

But it "rejected all claims made by the plaintiffs," a spokeswoman for the Sendai District Court in northern Japan told AFP.

Local media said the ruling, which was not immediately available, found the government was not obliged to pay compensation because the 20-year statute of limitations had now passed.

Some 16,500 people were sterilised without their consent under the law, which targeted those with disabilities.

In April, the government passed legislation offering the victims 3.2 million yen ($29,000) each, an amount derided by campaigners as "failing to meet the seriousness" of the issue.

The legislation, and an apology from the prime minister, only emerged after plaintiffs began to file lawsuits over their experiences.

After Tuesday's ruling, a supporter of the plaintiffs -- two women who were seeking compensation of 71.5 million yen ($650,000) in total -- rushed out of the courtroom with a banner that read: "Unfair verdict."

"We have arrived at this decision of 'unconstitutional', but it is meaningless if it fails to help the suffering of the victims," Koji Niisato, the chief lawyer for the plaintiffs, told reporters.

The verdict is "disappointing," he said, adding the plaintiffs will likely appeal to an upper court.

The issue hit the headlines last year after a Japanese woman, now in her 60s, sued the government over a sterilisation operation carried out in 1972 after she was diagnosed with a mental disability.

Lawyers and campaigners have long criticised the government and parliament for failing to compensate victims after the eugenics law was abandoned.

About 20 victims have so far filed lawsuits across the country seeking compensation of up to 38 million yen.

Plaintiffs' lawyers have vowed to seek compensation they say matches the gravity of the harm that victims suffered.

Campaigners have also said the government should more clearly distance itself from the notorious law that "has not only hurt the victims but also many disabled people".