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Court rules in favor of leprosy patients

The South Korean appeals court Friday ruled in favor of leprosy patients who were allegedly forced by the government to undergo sterilizations and abortions, upholding a lower court’s decision.

The Seoul High Court admitted to the government’s responsibility in implementing childbirth policies in violation of leprosy patients’ human dignity and values, ordering it to offer 20 million won ($18,144) in financial compensation to 139 victims.

“It seems that female patients have felt a sense of loss and guilt after losing their embryos. Male patients appear to have felt a sense of confusion, humiliation, fear and loss while undergoing an operation,” the court said in the ruling.

But the court lowered the amount of the compensation to 20 million won equally for male and female patients, citing a principle of equality under the Constitution. Last year, the Seoul Central District Court ordered the country to pay women 40 million and men 30 million. 

Human rights groups hold a press conference at the Seoul Central District Court gate Friday, ahead of the Seoul High Court’s ruling on state liability of compensation for leprosy patients’ sterilizations and abortions. Yonhap
Human rights groups hold a press conference at the Seoul Central District Court gate Friday, ahead of the Seoul High Court’s ruling on state liability of compensation for leprosy patients’ sterilizations and abortions. Yonhap


Earlier in June, officials of the appeals court visited Sorokdo to listen to the Hansen disease victims and witnesses, and to conduct an on-site inspection for the first time since the victims filed for a suit against the government.

The hearing was held at a makeshift courtroom at the Sorokdo National Hospital, Goheung county, South Jeolla Province, where victims underwent abortion and sterilization until the 1990s based on the belief that the disease they had could be passed on to the children. The disease, however, turned out to be curable and only mildly contagious.

Some 500 patients have filed for a total of six suits since 2011. The government set up a committee to find facts about the alleged state-led abuse of leprosy patients under the Prime Minister in 2007. A total of five cases are pending at the nation’s courts.

The government has appealed the decision, saying that the disputed operations had not been forced upon the patients.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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