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Thursday, June 8, 2006

Time limit dooms emigrant suit

Judge faults '50s Dominican Republic promo but no redress


Staff writer

The Tokyo District Court dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday filed by Japanese living in the Dominican Republic who were seeking 3.1 billion yen in compensation from the central government for its mismanagement of a postwar emigration program to the island state.

The ruling was the first in the lawsuit, which was filed by 170 plaintiffs in July 2000.

The litigation focused on whether the government could be held liable for its failed emigration policy.

According to the plaintiffs, the Foreign Ministry and the Federation of Japan Overseas Associations (Kaikyoren), now known as the Japan International Cooperation Agency, launched an emigration program to the Dominican Republic in the late 1950s without fully confirming whether the area to be settled was arable or securing an appropriate amount of land.

More than 1,000 people applied for the program and were promised free title to rich farmland.

What they got instead was barren land that belonged to someone else.

Presiding Judge Yasuo Kanei acknowledged the government failed to fulfill its legal duty.

He said the emigration program was a national policy that lacked proper on-site inspection and provided little information to the applicants.

However, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs could not claim compensation because the law says a claim must be filed within 20 years of a grievance.

Toru Takegama, a plaintiff who is also chairman of the Association of Japanese Nationals in the Dominican Republic, denounced the ruling and vowed to appeal.

"We were abandoned by our motherland," he told reporters after the ruling.

Over 1,300 Japanese moved to the Dominican Republic between 1956 and 1959, when the government sponsored emigration programs to mitigate the surging population as civilians and soldiers returned from Asia after the end of the war.

But many were devastated by the harsh conditions that awaited them, and some committed suicide.

In the lawsuit, filed in July 2000, the plaintiffs urged the government to fulfill the promises spelled out under the emigration program and give them free farmland.

The defendant's counterarguments centered on the fact that recruitment and screening of the emigrants were handled by Kaikyoren, not the government.

The government also claimed that the Dominican Republic should be held responsible for not holding up its end of the agreement by granting the farmland.

In March 2004, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi admitted the government's mismanagement and promised to "take appropriate measures" to help the sufferers.

The government has arranged to provide 10 million yen for establishing a community center in the Dominican Republic.

The lawsuits were filed by 177 plaintiffs between 2000 and 2001, but 17 of them have died, and the suits of 10 others have been taken up by their kin.



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