Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) yesterday offered an apology to patients with Hansen’s disease— also known as leprosy — for the “grievance” and “unequal treatment” they have suffered in the past, promising that his administration would take good care of their nursing and medical needs.
The apology came six months after the enactment of the Act of Human Rights Protection and Compensation for Hansen’s Disease Patients (漢生病病患人權保障及補償條例), which detailed measures the government must take to care for leprosy sufferers.
Making a public apology was one of the requirements of the Act as a way to restore the reputations of the patients, who had been labeled contagious and forced to live at the Losheng Sanatorium since Japanese colonial rule in the 1920s.
The segregation policy was continued by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government when it came to power and was not ended until the 1960s, despite the fact that a cure was found in the 1940s and it was proven that the disease was not infectious once treated.
Despite the lifting of the segregation policy, activists criticized the former Democratic Progressive Pary (DPP) government for failing to help the patients — many of whom have suffered deformities and skin disorders — return to the society and to end the social stigma and discrimination against the patients.
In Liu’s apology yesterday, he said that previous governments had not taken a positive and effective approach to end the discrimination against Hansen’s disease patients, which had led to an impairment of their dignity and human rights.
Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2005 also offered an apology to leprosy patients, but his DPP administration supported tearing down the sanatorium to make way for a mass rapid transit system maintenance depot. Preservationists and residents who believe the sanatorium has important historic value for the nation’s public health and human rights history protested and began a prolonged campaign for its preservation. The government finally made a decision in 2007 to preserve 49 buildings on the campus, with 10 of them to be relocated.
Having been halted for years because of the controversy over Losheng, the construction of the maintenance depot finally restarted in December, after police forcibly removed preservationists who were still not happy about the new plans and residents who refused to leave.
Later yesterday, Department of Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) also visited Losheng and offered an apology on behalf of the government to the residents over the isolation policy in the past — however, not all the residents reacted positively to the gesture.
While some Losheng residents welcomed Yeh’s apology and thanked him for renovating some of the buildings, others did not.
“I will not accept the government’s apology, because they did not apologize for what they did to me in December,” said Lan Tsai-yun (藍彩雲), a Losheng resident who was removed by the police from the Joan of Arc House. “I asked them to give me two more weeks to pack, but they refused. They cut the power and water while I was still inside, then they cut through the door with an electric saw and took me away by force. But look, Joan of Arc House still stands there today, a month after that incident — why couldn’t they give me two more weeks?”
Lee Tien-pei (李添培), another Losheng resident and chairman of the Losheng Self-Help Organization, said he had lost confidence in the government.
“Just saying ‘sorry’ doesn’t help — I’ll wait to see if they will fulfill their promises,” Lee said, referring to Yeh’s promise that no building would be damaged during the construction and that residents may move back to the preserved houses afterward.
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