Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has apologized to the families of former leprosy patients for the now-defunct government policy of segregating the sufferers.
Abe met more than 40 family members of the former patients of Hansen's disease at the prime minister's office on Wednesday.
The meeting came after the Kumamoto district court ordered the central government last month to compensate families of people with Hansen's disease in a lawsuit filed by more than 500 plaintiffs across Japan. The government decided not to appeal the ruling.
Abe said that the patients' families were, without doubt, subject to severe discrimination and prejudice against leprosy and suffered much pain and hardship for many years.
He bowed and offered a sincere apology to them on behalf of the government.
Abe said that he decided to accept the court ruling and introduce new legislation to compensate families of former Hansen's patients, including those who did not participate in the lawsuit.
He also pledged to swiftly set up a committee to seek solutions to problems and to work with the families to eradicate discrimination and prejudice.
The head of the plaintiffs' group, Chikara Hayashi, said that more than 20 years have passed since the leprosy prevention law was repealed, but it's not easy to get rid of discriminatory practices that have built up over decades.
He said that he wants the prime minister and his government to do all they can to correct public misunderstanding through education based on the opinions of the victims' families.