It is 58 years since the Minamata disease was certified by the state (May
1, 1956). But a full scope of its disaster has not been proven yet though
the sickness represents a beginning to arouse awareness to industrial nuisances
in the world. No perspective for solution, however, has been seen. Here
presents a brief history of struggles on the disease.
58 YEARS PASSED AFTER STATE’S CERTIFICATION, BUT PATIETNS STILL SUFFER
A court ruling was given last March 31 for eight plaintiffs who had not been certified as patients: they had sued against the state and the Prefecture of Kumamoto as well as Chisso Corporation, which had caused the disaster, seeking compensation. The plaintiffs were from the Mutual Assistance Association of Minamata Disease Victims. The court ordered to pay compensation money to three of them, which ranges from 105 million Yen to 2.2 million Yen, while it turned down the demand for the rest of five plaintiffs.
The eight people were born in the years from 1953 to 1960 and are certified by Doctor Harada Masazumi (died in June, 2012) as a patient contracted during the fetal or infancy periods. Representing the second generation of the disease, they have fought in the court. At first they were nine of them, but one withdrew from the litigation last November when he was certified administratively after having a decision for the appeal.
Court Ruling - Not watches Overall Scope
For seven plaintiffs, who had visual impairment, the judgment relied on a fact whether they had been exposed to highly-concentrated methyl-mercury. As for the two, a male and a female, some of whose parents and grandparents had been certified as a patient, the ruling said that ‘the cause lied in the exposure to the substance during the fetal and infancy periods’.
The rest five plaintiffs did not have family members who were certified as patients. For this reason the case was dismissed on the ground that ‘they had not been exposed to the substance’ and ‘their sensual impairment may come from another disease’. The court declared they are ‘fake patients’, as did in the same way as the state and the Kumamoto Prefecture.
Why did the Court Mistake?
According to Defense Counsel Yamaguchi Norihiro, who criticizes, saying, ‘the court does not look around a forest but looks at trees. The Minamata disease is like a forest, the affected area is like a forest and a big group of patients are like a forest. The judicial people do not regard plaintiffs as representatives of these forests. That is why they make a big mistake’.
Leader of the group of plaintiffs, Mr. Sato Hideki, is angry, who tells; ‘the court employed a criterion whether a family has a patient or not in the process of judgment. That is discriminative. They all were born in the same area, have had similar eating habits and been exposed to mercury. More minute investigation is necessary to know how every one of the victims had led a life in order to reach right judgment’.
A family member of the plaintiffs, Ms Sato Fumie, demanded the Ministry of Environment in the negotiation, saying that ‘we have got contracted the disease, without knowing anything about mercury. We have eaten poisoned fish for several decades. Responsibility of Chisso Corporation, the state and the prefecture is grave. They should bear responsibility. Admit the mistaken judgment criteria of the 1952 and withdraw them’.
‘Awareness’ Developed in the course of Struggles
Strong prejudice and discrimination pertain to the Minamata disease. Under the circumstances the nine people decided to sue. Though some plaintiffs refuse to put his/her name on the list for litigation, they, one by one, began to testify confidently and reply to questions raised by the prosecutors during these seven years of legal battles. They have identified themselves where they stand. (Prof. Hanada Masanori, Kumamoto Gakuen University)
The case of second generation of plaintiffs who appealed to the upper court will come to the most critical stage soon. Kuramoto Yukimi, one of them, told: ‘I was overwhelmed when I heard the court ruling. But I know that what is right is right even in the Supreme Court. I will never give up’. Determination is strong. They have vigorous aspirations and are consolidated closely.
May 6, 2014