EDITORIAL: Time to make peace with hibakusha A-bomb survivors
The 69th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is looming. The long-running legal battles between hibakusha survivors of the 1945 attacks and the government should be settled as soon as possible. It is the government that should take the initiative.
The number of A-bomb survivors who have a hibakusha certificate book issued by the government is expected to fall below 200,000 this year. In recent years, the figure has been declining at an annual rate of more than 8,000. It now stands at around half of its peak in the 1980s.
What should be noted here is that people with the certificate book don’t constitute all the victims of the A-bombings or their aftermath. Some people have not applied for the hibakusha book out of concerns that their families may suffer discrimination because of their radiation-related diseases.
Quite a few others have been denied the certificate book on grounds there is no witness who can testify to the truth of their claims of suffering exposure.
There are people who received high doses of radiation as a result of the “black rain” that fell on suburbs in Hiroshima after the attack. In Nagasaki, many people were exposed to radiation even though they were not in the designated atomic-bombed area. These people have also demanded the same level of aid as that received by the holders of the hibakusha book, but the government has so far rejected their demands.
Over the past 11 years, A-bomb survivors who have the book have filed a series of lawsuits against the government in an effort to change the system by which hibakusha are judged as suffering from radiation-related illnesses. In most of these suits, the courts have handed down rulings in favor of the plaintiffs. It is rare for the government to suffer such a series of defeats in administrative cases.
In December 2013, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare partially revised its criteria for recognition of atomic bomb diseases. Still, since then, three related court rulings have gone against the government.
Let us think afresh as to what is the greatest wish of A-bomb survivors.
The Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, which was established in 1956, is dedicated to the cause of preventing further and future suffering from nuclear weapons. The two key goals of the organization have been the elimination of nuclear arms and support for hibakusha.
The lawsuits concerning official recognition of illnesses caused by A-bomb radiation tend to be seen as attempts to obtain greater support. But that’s not the only purpose.
Hibakusha have urged the Japanese government, which started the war, to recognize correctly the damage caused by the atomic bombings and pay appropriate compensation to the victims because they believe these actions should be a first step in the effort to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy.
But the health ministry has limited the eligibility for the government’s hibakusha relief program mostly to people suffering from the effects of exposure to radiation. As for people who are believed to have been exposed to relatively low levels of radiation, the ministry is reluctant to recognize them as A-bomb disease sufferers even if they are showing related symptoms. The ministry has refused to change its stance despite a string of court rulings that criticized its position on the issue as inconsistent with the spirit of the atomic bomb survivor relief law.
Is the government waiting for these people to die? We urge the administration headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to respond sincerely to the question asked by angry hibakusha. The administration should acknowledge the government’s responsibility and take steps to end the legal battles. A radical revision to the criteria for recognition of A-bomb diseases would be a good place to start.
The inhuman nature of nuclear weapons is attracting serious attention from the international community. If hibakusha, who are living witnesses to the inhuman nature of nuclear arms, and the government of the country that has experienced nuclear attacks can work together harmoniously, such cooperation would contribute greatly to the efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Abe is expected to visit the two cities this summer once again. Boilerplate speeches and superficial conversations will be meaningless. Abe needs to pay serious attention to the true wishes of hibakusha and take action immediately in response to their voices.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 3