What do survivors of biological warfare want to see?
Comments by Tatsuo Kage
Press Conference: May 15, 2003, at Nikkei Place
Canadians Support Survivors of Germ Warfare at the First Appeal Court Hearing in Tokyo
In 1997 a group of Chinese plaintiffs, who were survivors and relatives of victims, sued the Japanese government for apology and compensation. Prior to that a group of Japanese lawyers visited China nine times to investigate and interview survivors and relatives of victims of the biological warfare. As one of the lawyers told me, they visited remote villages reached only after several hours of a bus ride on bumpy roads before being welcomed by hospitable local people.
During the hearings the plaintiffs claimed thousands of Chinese perished in outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, anthrax and typhoid that were allegedly mass-produced by the Imperial Army's Unit 731. The lawyers of the plaintiffs suspect that several hundred thousand people were victimized in China.
The Japanese government finally admitted the existence of Unit 731 after decades of denial, but it has not disclosed any details about its experiments on people or bacteriological warfare activities.
After five years of 28 court sessions, on August 27, 2002 Koji Iwata, the presiding judge of the Tokyo District Court, gave a verdict. While the Court admitted Japan waged germ warfare in China during the war and caused harm to residents which were "cruel and inhumane," the Court rejected the damages sought: "No international law that enables individuals to sue for war damages had been established at that time or has been now."
There is an obvious contradiction in this ruling between the acknowledgement of illegal activities by the Japanese army and the denial of state responsibility, as Ms. Wang Xuan, the representative of 180 plaintiffs rightly pointed out.
Mr. Koken Tsuchiya, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that the ruling is still significant in that the court has acknowledge the unit's culpability in an official judgement.
Plaintiffs were angry and upset with the court verdict. They say that if the Japanese government did not acknowledge the wrongs done to them nor offer compensation with an apology, the reconciliation and friendship between the two nations would never be achieved. They say, if they themselves will not be able to see the resolution in their life time, their children and grandchildren will certainly continue to fight for justice.
Soon after the verdict the plaintiffs decided to appeal to a higher court and the first hearing will be held on May 20, 2003. They hope that with strong support from Chinese people and conscientious people in Japan and overseas, they could appeal to the conscience of the judges at the Higher Court. What will happen at the appeal hearings? At first glance the matter is not so much depending on fact finding as the illegality of the Japanese army's conduct has already been ascertained in the court. Rather, it seems to be more about the principles of justice and human dignity. These can be supported by a different interpretation of international law, customs and prevailing principles. They believe that if judges at the Higher Court would listen to the voices of people, including those directly affected, the judges at the Higher Court will make a wise and correct decision different from what the judges at the District Court gave in the 2002 verdict.
People in Japan and elsewhere do not know much about the impact of the biological warfare conducted by the Japanese Army. It is partly because it was a clandestine activity and also because of a cover-up by the US. In addition to individual sufferings, the plague caused the destruction of communities: People became suspicious each other and discriminated against families with sick people. Even doctors were afraid and refused to see infected patients. Communication and trades were disrupted. Further, the plague could remain active for many years, thus destroying the environment. In short, we should know more about the effects of biological warfare conducted for the first time in the modern history. In addition to tremendous sufferings of individuals, the effects include community, environmental and epidemiological impacts. The survivors wish to see the public learn more about these effects during the upcoming court hearings.