SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

YUN Jae-un “Tough Question of ‘Relief of Victims’”

There are numerous cases of victims in international disputes or environmental problem and policy, yet providing relief for these victims is far from easy. When there are complicated webs of interests among those involved victims, assailants, supporters, and political entities (political parties, politicians) makes finding “solution” challenging. Sometimes, a new “victim” may merge over time, raising the question “Until when and how they should be relieved” a serious issue. There may be other controversies about the method of relief, particularly monetary relief and government regrettable attitude are the core of the matter.


In some case, domestic issue may escalate to international level stipulating the relationship between countries such as Japan-Korea, Japan-China and Japan-North Korea. The deep-rooted nature of the issues involving victims and assailants makes it discuss these matters without addressing these border concerns. This interconnectedness draws a special attention to the facts that the people’s identities in relation this problem. 


On September 27 this year, Osaka District Court delivered a noteworthy judgement. The 128 plaintiffs of Minamata disease who sued the country, Kumamoto Pref., and the company Chisso, won the case. The final judgement was difficult to foresee given that it was the first trial and the defendants have since appealed. Many people might be surprised thinking that “Minamata disease was historical issue!”.      


The disease was confirmed officially at Minamata City in 1956, leading to conflicts and compromises among victims, their supporters, the company Chisso and the government. In the midst of the pollution problem around 1970s, the system of financial compensation (mainly by Chisso) and administrative accreditation by the Ministry of Environment toward Minamata victims was established. However, a lot of people who suffered damage were left behind. The system which certified as Minamata victims officially were very complicated, and there was no relief measure for victims who were not certified. Legal responsibility for the country was only certified by the Supreme Court in the year 2004, after decades, of court battles!


The Government attempted political settlement for Minamata victims for the first time in 1990s, exceeding in the “Political Settlement” providing relief for about ten thousand Minamata victims. However, this allowed the government to escape legal procedure. Then the Prime Minister Murayama appraised this result saying: We emphasized the Minamata disease as “genesis of pollution problems and worked out the solution between the parties”.


At the same time, he acknowledged “there were reflecting points too”. Nonetheless, legal responsibility was evaded. It was the result of repeated litigations of national reparations in Osaka, the Government lost the case in 2004, revealing an unusual dual classification system Minamata victims labelling them as both “certified patients and (representing as a negative symptom) and “Minamata victims saved by the Government”. The Supreme Court’s 2000s judgment made it clear that Minamata issue was a far from solved. Around 3000 uncertified victims raised lawsuit in 1995. First ‘No more Minamata litigation’. Another court battle began as the Government failed to establish a new framework despite their final decision.  


It was after the change of politics that controversy about relief of victims intensified. Just before the Regime change, both ruling and opposition parties agreed on “Special Measures Law for Minamata victims” (the law for relief of Minamata victims and solution of Minamata problems). It marked the first legislative measure for the relief of Minamata victims after the War, but this law was temporary, with the due date “September 2017”. In the preface of this law, there was a sentence: “This law was established for the purpose of ending conflicts of the area, protecting the environment and actualizing the society which people can live peacefully as the final solution of Minamata problem”. The enactment of this law reflects a thought of “final solution”. Approximately fifty thousand victims were relieved by this Special Measures Law. In May 2010, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama attended the memorial ceremony of Minamata City as a first representative of the Government after the War and apologized by saying “Please accept my sincere condolence as we failed to recognize our responsibility and we neglected the damages”.


Despite, the relief measure provided by the Special Measures Law, new lawsuit emerged the case “The second ‘No More Minamata case’” highlighting the ongoing complexities.   Although we thought Minamata problem was resolved by the fair judgement at the Court, it had been receiving people’s attention. The history of Minamata disease and its victims shows how complex its relief and solution are. Despite financial compensation, apology and the Government reflection, controversies about victim relief have been continued for more than 70 years even now. It emphasizes the important of ensuring relief measures are not temporary.



SGRA Kawaraban 752 in Japanese (Original)



YUN Jae-un / 2020 Raccoon, Special Researcher at Peace/Community Research Organization, Rikkyo University



Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sabina Koirala