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Hidankyo leader calls for fast-track overall settlement of Hibakusha lawsuits

For six years, atomic bomb survivors (Hibakusha) have waged court struggles throughout the country demanding that the government recognize their diseases as caused by exposure to radiation from the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After winning 16 consecutive victories in this concerted struggle, they have been urging the Health Ministry to change the present criteria for certifying diseases linked to atomic bomb radiation exposure since April of last year.

However, the ministry has continuously appealed against court decisions in favor of Hibakusha and has been reluctant to settle the issue.

With the Osaka and Tokyo High Court rulings scheduled for May, Japan Confederation of A- and A-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) Secretary General Tanaka Terumi made the following statement:

"Since the new criteria came into effect last year, nearly 3,000 Hibakusha have been recognized as suffering from diseases caused by A-bomb radiation exposure. The number would have been only 270 if certification standards had not been revised. Clearly, this is a great achievement in our concerted lawsuits. It is a reminder of these difficult 63 years for Hibakusha who have been forced to endure various illnesses without help.

However, there are 250,000 A-bomb survivors, and the number of Hibakusha who have been recognized as patients suffering from A-bomb diseases under the new standards account for only two percent of that number, up from one percent. As pointed out by many court rulings, even the new standards do not reflect the actual extent of A-bomb radiation sufferers.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kawamura Takeo and Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi have said that the government will decide what to do next after examining upcoming high court decisions scheduled for May. Now is the time to urge the government to improve the standards for certification and bring the issue to an overall settlement.

The new standards have enabled many Hibakusha, including those who were exposed to radiation at places that were far from the epicenter or shortly after the day of the atomic bombings, to be acknowledged as sufferers of A-bomb radiation diseases. 170 of about 300 plaintiffs have received such recognition under the new criteria.

But the Health Ministry has failed to reflect on its repeated past rejections of Hibakusha's application for recognition, which has been repeatedly criticized by courts as illegal, and insisted that it was not wrong for them to make such decisions under the former standards.

On the other hand, the Health Ministry has appealed against court decisions which ordered it to recognize Hibakusha's hepatic function disorders as caused by A-bomb radiation. It should not be allowed to underestimate radiation damages and continue to postpone settlement of the issue.

In March, the Hiroshima District Court for the first time ordered the government to pay compensation to Hibakusha for continuously turning down their applications for official recognition. It should sincerely accept the court decision.

U.S. President Barack Obama referred to the moral responsibility of the U.S. for using nuclear weapons and announced determination to seek a world without such weapons. The Japanese government's response to this announcement is called into question since it has stated that the U.S. nuclear umbrella is necessary as deterrence and expressed its understanding and acceptance of the U.S. nuclear preemptive attack strategy.

This stance is the basis of the government's rejection to face compensating actual A-bomb victims. Hibakusha hope to achieve an overall settlement in May by joining hands with the people calling for the total abolition of nuclear weapons."

- Akahata, April 14, 2009

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