Japan’s Supreme Court Rules Forced Sterilizations Were Unconstitutional

Japan’s Supreme Court Rules Forced Sterilizations Were Unconstitutional

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DNA helix on colored background
Picture: Ravil Sayfullin / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Japan's Supreme Court says that the country's former eugenics law violated the country's Constitution, opening the door for compensation.

Japan once legally sterilized people with disabilities to weed out “defective offspring.” Nearly three decades after the practice was abandoned, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the former Eugenic Protection Law that allowed forced sterilizations was illegal, paving the path for overdue compensation.

No statute of limitations applied to ruling

The ruling concerned five lawsuits brought by people with disabilities who are seeking damages from the government for sterilization under the former Eugenic Protection Law (1948-1996). The Supreme Court ruled on July 3 that the defunct law was unconstitutional and issued the first unified decision recognizing the government’s liability for damages.

The court did not apply the statute of limitations, which limits the right to claim damages within a 20-year expiration period after the illegal act. The ruling said doing so would be “significantly contrary to justice and fairness.”

The 15-judge panel voted unanimously, making this the 13th case in which the Supreme Court has ruled a law unconstitutional.

Censorship in the way of justice

Picture: madamlead / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Wednesday’s ruling paved the way to make amends for the victims who underwent unreasonable surgeries based on the former eugenics law, enacted in 1948 and targeted approximately 25,000 people with disabilities to “prevent the birth of defective offspring.”

66% of victims, some as young as nine, were sterilized without consent.

These gruesome details came to light only last June when Japan produced its first-ever report on compulsory sterilization. The report, however, was based on half-censored evidence.


Only 10 of Japan’s 47 prefectures submitted uncensored documents as evidence to the National Diet. 26 submitted partially blacked-out documents, citing privacy issues. 11 claimed to have no records containing personal documents. Yamaguchi Prefecture submitted nothing at all, saying that “all materials will be redacted.”

Government issues apology

With the Supreme Court’s unified decision this week, subsequent lawsuits will be judged in accordance with this framework.

Prime Minister Kishida responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling, apologizing on behalf of the government.

“The government sincerely regrets this decision and sincerely apologizes.”

He also stated that, “As the government was in charge of enforcing the former Eugenic Protection Law, we sincerely regret this decision and offer our deepest apologies.”

In response to questions from reporters, he stated that the government would promptly compensate those who were forced to undergo sterilization. He further announced that he has instructed the Minister of State for Children’s Policy and others to set up a meeting between the PM and the plaintiffs by the end of this month. He has also instructed them to consider new compensation plans in consultation with the Diet, so that a conclusion can be reached as soon as possible.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi stated at a press conference, “The government will examine the Supreme Court’s decision carefully and consider appropriate measures, including a meeting requested by plaintiffs with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.”

Compensation procedures underway

Of the five lawsuits, the Court finalized four cases that ordered the government to pay compensation.

In the Sendai lawsuit, in which the plaintiffs had lost in the first and second trials, the Supreme Court returned the case to the Sendai High Court to calculate damages.

What to read next


旧優生保護法は違憲、最高裁 強制不妊、国に賠償責任. Kyodo

【速報】旧優生保護法判決受け「真摯に反省し心からお詫び」岸田総理 原告との面会も指示. TBS News Dig

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