The Diet recently passed into law a bill designed to provide state benefits to victims of crimes committed by the Aum Supreme Truth cult, but stopped short of requiring the central government to compensate victims of the indiscriminate terrorist attacks.
The cult, which committed heinous crimes including sarin gas attacks in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and on Tokyo’s subway system in the 1990s, went bankrupt in 1996. Victims and bereaved family members filed compensation lawsuits against the cult, with courts ordering it to pay a total of 3.8 billion yen in damages. But about 2.3 billion yen of that remains unpaid.
With the cult’s court-administered bankruptcy proceedings having ended in March, victims have asked the government to pass a law to help them obtain the unpaid compensation. The ruling coalition and the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan responded separately to the plea, each drafting their own bills.
The DPJ submitted a bill to the Diet ahead of the ruling bloc. Its bill envisaged that the government would pay all unpaid damages as the party believed it was the state’s responsibility to help victims of terrorist attacks.
The ruling coalition initially considered drafting a similar bill of its own, but dropped the idea in the face of opposition from some Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers, who argued it would be difficult to win the understanding of the public as to why the government should pay debts owed by the criminal cult.
Eventually, the ruling bloc came up with a draft bill that would divide victims into six categories according to the degree of suffering they and they relatives experienced as a result of the attacks. The categories include death and permanent disability requiring nursing care, and grant central government benefits of up to 15 million yen to each victim, regardless of whether he or she had received compensation from the cult.
After negotiations between the ruling and opposition parties, both sides agreed to prioritize the relief of victims and modify the ruling coalition’s draft bill by raising the maximum benefits to 30 million yen.
The bill, which was sponsored by the chairman of the House of Representatives Cabinet Committee, was then submitted to the Diet.
The bill was unanimously passed into law Wednesday, more than two months after the end of the cult’s bankruptcy proceedings. Given that victims of the Aum crimes have become increasingly uneasy about the damages issue, the ruling and opposition parties can be given credit for hammering out a practical solution in a relatively short period of time.
In the process of drawing up the bill, the ruling and opposition parties discussed what form state compensation should take for victims of terrorist attacks that were intended to subvert the country or indiscriminately kill people. However, the discussions ended inconclusively.
Some Western countries pay official compensation to victims of terrorist attacks and similar crimes, recognizing the state’s responsibility for helping such people.
Akihisa Nagashima, a lower house member of the DPJ who was among those who drew up the party’s draft bill, said the U.S. government paid the equivalent of about 150 million yen in compensation to each victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
“The U.S. government takes a different approach from Japan to victims of terrorism,” he said.
Bureaucrats wary of change
Hidemichi Morosawa, a Tokiwa University professor specialized in studies of crime victims, said bureaucrats were reluctant to establish a system that would oblige the government to compensate crime victims.
“Since victims of the Aum crimes can be sure of public support, the government should have made a political decision to establish a precedent of paying compensation to victims [of terrorist attacks],” he said.
Regarding compensation for victims of terrorist attacks, the new law stipulated that the government should study and take measures as required to assist victims of terrorism.
As the government is tasked with protecting the lives of its nationals and providing security, how should it compensate victims of terrorism?
This is a problem concerning the fundamental relationship between the state and people on which the government and ruling and opposition parties should hold in-depth discussions with a view to providing real relief for the victims of terrorism.