Ruling benefits atomic bomb victims overseas

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Ruling benefits atomic bomb victims overseas

Japan’s top court on Tuesday stated in a landmark ruling that the Korean victims of the atomic bombings seven decades ago were entitled to full governmental compensation for medical treatment, even if they are no longer living in the country.

The Japanese Supreme Court upheld rulings from lower courts in favor of three Korean victims of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima atomic bombings in August 1945, saying the plaintiffs were eligible to receive the same medical subsidies as Japanese victims.

In June 2011, three relatives of the Korean atomic bomb survivors filed a suit in Osaka Prefecture after being denied the same medical compensation as Japanese victims residing there.

The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of a lower court last year, arguing that Osaka Prefecture’s government acted unjustly and should reimburse the survivors for their medical expenses, the same as Japanese citizens receive, despite being based in Korea.

The suit was led by Lee Hong-hyun, 69, the son of one of the victims, who has suffered health problems all his life and was diagnosed with having side effects of radiation at the age of 37.

Lee was exposed to radiation while in his mother’s womb in Hiroshima, where his father was a conscripted worker at a Mitsubishi shipyard during the World War II era.

Their family returned to Korea after the peninsula was liberated from Japanese colonial rule (1910-45).

It was only in 2008 that Lee learned that the Japanese government fully subsidizes the medical expenses for the atomic bombing victims through the Atomic Bomb Survivors’ Assistance Act. However, he was denied the subsidies because he was not receiving treatment in Japan.

In 2003, Japan began to partially subsidize medical expenses for overseas victims, after an Osaka High Court ruling the previous year that recognized that atomic bomb survivors are survivors regardless of their residence. However, these subsidies have a low cap and are often not enough to cover treatment fees.

In 2014, following the appeals trial for this case, the cap for medical subsidies was raised from 180,000 yen ($1,498) to up to 300,000 yen, still not on par with what Japanese victims would receive.

However, because similar lawsuits brought in other regions have previously been overruled and others are currently underway, the new ruling may set a precedent in future cases for overseas victims.

According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there were 4,280 atomic bomb victims living overseas as of March - 3,000 of whom are Korean. 

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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