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Leprosy: Japan apologises to families of patients

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Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, on Wednesday apologised to family members of former leprosy patients, who were discriminated against and suffered immeasurably under the state’s former controversial segregation policy.

“I deeply apologise as prime minister and as representing the government for having forced you to endure pain and hardship for a long time in your precious life,” the Japanese leader said.

“The government as a whole will work with you toward eradicating discrimination and prejudice,” Abe told the family members, while offering a deep bow.

Abe apologised in person to representatives of the family members.

It came after the government here decided earlier in July that it would not appeal a court ruling handed down in Kumamoto Prefecture awarding the state to pay compensation to former leprosy patients’ families.

The ruling made by the Kumamoto District Court was the first ruling awarding compensation to family members, with the court finding that the government acted illegally by not ending its segregation policy by 1960.

The court also found illegality in Japan keeping its leprosy prevention law until 1966.

Head of the plaintiffs group, Chikara Hayashi, said that government’s decision not to appeal the court’s ruling had given hope to the families.

Hayashi said the government should enhance efforts to change the perceptions about leprosy through better education.

“It is difficult to dispel the sense of discrimination in society,” Hayashi said.

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