A-bomb survivors request changes to relief law, renew call for state compensation

by Kohei Okata, Staff Writer

In an effort to obtain compensation from the state for harm suffered by victims as a result of the atomic bombings, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization (Hidankyo) is working to reinvigorate its movement. This effort is based on the notion that compensation paid as the result of Japan's responsibility for the harm brought about by the atomic bombings, which were the result of the war launched by Japan, will set the nation on a path that will "create no more hibakusha." In order to change the stance of the government, which continues to call on its people to endure the harm they suffered in the war, it is essential to make a persuasive appeal that will evoke the sympathy of other victims of the war as well as ordinary citizens.

Sympathy of other victims essential

"Basic Demands of the Atomic Bomb Survivors," a document prepared by Hidankyo in 1984, serves as the basis for the current A-bomb survivors' movement. The two pillars of the document are: "Do not let nuclear war happen: Ban nuclear weapons!" and "Enact an Atomic Bomb Survivors Aid Law now!" Through the A-bomb survivors' movement, these basic demands have been promoted since Hidankyo was established in 1956.

With regard to enactment of an Atomic Bomb Survivors Aid Law that provides for state compensation, the document states: "The purpose shall be to provide state compensation for the damage caused by the atomic bombs, with the determination to create no more hibakusha."

Current law disallows compensation

For this reason those who have become involved in the A-bomb survivors' movement refer to the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, which was enacted in 1995 and serves as the basis for the current relief measures for survivors, as the "current law." Terumi Tanaka, 78, secretary general of Hidankyo, said, "The current law does not incorporate the spirit of compensation by the state. In fact, it disallows it. It is not the law we have been seeking."

Why has the government denied the requests of the A-bomb survivors for compensation for more than 50 years? In reply to this question, in 1994, at a meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Health and Welfare, Shoichi Ide, then Minister of Health and Welfare, acknowledged that state compensation would represent compensation based on Japan's responsibility for the war. "If we recognize the state's war responsibility to the atomic bomb survivors, the issue of parity with other victims of the war will arise," he said.

One factor underlying the government's failure to acknowledge its responsibility for the war is the notion of "endurance." An opinion issued in 1980 by the Conference for Fundamental Problems of Measures for the Victims of the Atomic Bombs (Kihon-kon), a private advisory body to the Minister of Health and Welfare (now Health, Labor and Welfare), stated that in comparison to the ordinary damage caused during the war that the damage, including radiation, wrought by the atomic bombings had a distinctive uniqueness. At the same time it stated that the sacrifices made by Japan's citizens as a result of the war must be borne equally by all.

During deliberations on the enactment of the relief law in 1994, then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama stated that the law was in accord with the philosophy of the Kihon-kon. Even now the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare says that the issue of state compensation for A-bomb survivors was fully debated at the time of the enactment of the relief law, and it continues to disavow the need to pay compensation, citing the notions of parity with ordinary victims of the war and the concept of "endurance."

Although Hidankyo lodged a strong protest to the establishment of the law at the time, according to Mr. Tanaka the atmosphere was such that it would have been difficult to change the law just after its enactment.

Establishment of review committee

However, the class action suit seeking recognition for sufferers of A-bomb diseases, which was initially filed in 2003, is nearing its conclusion, and the environment is right for starting afresh on a movement to seek compensation from the state. As a result, last year Hidankyo set up a committee to study changes to the current law, and it has come up with a list of eight proposed changes to be requested.

Hidankyo held its regular general meeting on June 16 at a Tokyo hotel. Amid discussion of the strategy of the movement for this fiscal year, about one hour was allocated to debate on the proposed changes to the law to be requested.

Kazuto Yoshida, 78, a member of the atomic bomb survivors association in Tokyo's Suginami Ward, was the first to speak. "For the prime minister to simply say at the United Nations that he will lead efforts to abolish nuclear weapons is a lot of hot air," he said. "Compensation by the state for harm resulting from the atomic bombings would destroy the notion that the victims of the war must endure the harm they suffered. That is the mission the survivors must fulfill in order to bring about peace in the future." His remark was met with applause.

However, the 15 years that have elapsed since the current law was enacted have led to pressure for restructuring of the movement. At Hidankyo's general meeting, it was suggested that there was a need to relearn why compensation from the state is being requested. It was also pointed out that among the regional Hidankyo organizations there are aging A-bomb survivors who feel the emphasis should be placed on realistically changing the system for certification for A-bomb diseases.

Sueichi Kido, 70, assistant secretary general of Hidankyo, was involved in preparing the list of requested changes. "The proposed changes are merely a basis for discussion. I would like the debate at the general meeting to serve as the starting point," he said.

Global support

There is support behind the effort to obtain compensation from the state. One element is the global momentum behind the effort to create a world without nuclear weapons. Enacting a relief law that would provide state compensation to A-bomb survivors would represent a pledge never to repeat the harm wrought by nuclear weapons, and is nothing less than a philosophy that renounces nuclear weapons. It would also serve as a message urging Japan to get out from under the nuclear umbrella of the United States.

There is also a growing movement among other victims of the war, including victims of the Tokyo air raid. Sunao Tsuboi, 85, chairman of the Hidankyo, said, "State compensation is an issue that all victims of the war must tackle together."

The basic demands state that, through their accounts of their experiences, the A-bomb survivors have continued to assert that they must not be made to endure the harm they suffered as the result of nuclear war. And it repeatedly calls on the state to provide compensation for the harm the survivors have suffered. There is not much time left to bring together this appeal.

Outline of Proposed Changes to the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law to Be Requested*

●Revise the preamble to the current law to stipulate state compensation and the resolve to abolish nuclear weapons

●Pay condolence money or special benefits to the families of those who died in the atomic bombings

●Pay an allowance to all atomic bomb survivors

●Stipulate by law those illnesses that are atomic bomb-related and pay additional medical benefits and allowances to certified atomic bomb survivors. Illnesses not stipulated by the law shall be approved by the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare after deliberations by a council.

●Conduct surveys on second- and third-generation survivors, issue official certificates to those who desire them, and pay the cost of medical care for certain illnesses

●Apply all provisions of the law to survivors living outside Japan

●Revise requirements for issuance of certificates to atomic bomb survivors

*Drawn up by the Hidankyo's Committee to Consider Changes to the Current Law

Interview with Akiko Naono, associate professor, Kyushu University Graduate School

The Chugoku Shimbun asked Akiko Naono, 38, associate professor at Kyushu University Graduate School, an expert on the A-bomb survivors' movement, about the significance of their demand for compensation from the state for the harm they suffered as a result of the atomic bombings and the direction of the movement. Following are excerpts from the interview.

Seeking compensation that goes beyond framework

It is difficult for the A-bomb survivors to even describe their experiences. Nevertheless, for more than 50 years they have carried on their movement with the idea that we must "create no more A-bomb survivors." I would like them to be prouder of what they have accomplished through their movement.

The A-bomb survivors' movement has not been carried out based on whether or not something could be accomplished. Rooted in their own experiences, the movement has sought compensation from the government, which prosecuted the war, for the harm the survivors suffered as a result of the atomic bombings that resulted from that war. This demand goes beyond the legal definition of state compensation.

If the survivors talk not only about what happened on August 6 but also about how they lived after that, their argument will be more persuasive. When considering state compensation, that perspective is important. According to the view of the Kihon-kon, the current law only addresses part of the harm caused by the atomic bomb – the effects of radiation. If we stick with the current law, we cannot see the full scope of the harm that was caused.

The concept and framework of the current law disallow compensation by the state, so if the preamble were revised somewhat would the law then shift to a spirit of compensation? I would like to see more in-depth debate on the issue with the requested changes to the law drawn up by the Hidankyo committee serving as the basis for discussion.

Thus far the A-bomb survivors' movement has focused on two major issues: requests for compensation by the state and demands for the enhancement of current measures. Compensation does not need to be in the form of money. Another option must be considered whereby the government would, after offering a proper apology for its role as the primary force behind the conduct of the war, pledge to create no more A-bomb survivors, to enshrine the three non-nuclear principles into law, and to preserve Article 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits acts of war.

This type of compensation would be more acceptable to other victims of the war and to ordinary citizens. The struggle of the A-bomb survivors has not been restricted to matters related only to them. It is also about opening the way to our future.

(Originally published June 21, 2010)

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