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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

FROM THE EDITORS: 20 YEARS ON

In an issue that dwells a lot on history, it must not go unremarked that this year is the 20th anniversary of the abolition of Japan’s Leprosy Prevention Law. This was the law, enacted in 1907, under which persons diagnosed with leprosy were involuntarily placed in sanatoria where they were consigned to spend the rest of their lives.

The 20-year statute of limitations on seeking compensation for damages over the segregation policy expired at the end of March. While not everyone eligible for compensation had come forward by the deadline, fearful that their medical histories would be revealed, noteworthy was the mass lawsuit filed by over 500 kin seeking an apology and compensation for the discrimination and hardship they too have suffered.

Also of note this year is the rare apology issued by Japan’s Supreme Court for authorizing the use of “special courts” to try leprosy patients between 1948 and 1972. But while the top court acknowledged that these trials outside standard courtrooms were unlawful and fostered prejudice, it stopped short of declaring them unconstitutional — and thus does a sense of injustice linger.