戦没者遺骨収集 遺族の思いを汲んで速やかに

The Yomiuri Shimbun
As families wait, expedite efforts to retrieve remains of war dead
戦没者遺骨収集 遺族の思いを汲んで速やかに

Seventy years have passed since World War II ended, and the families of Japan’s war dead are growing older. Efforts to find and retrieve remains of those who died in countries far from home must be accelerated.

This month, a law to promote collection of the remains of the war dead came into force. The law’s main points are that it clearly positions retrieval of these remains as “the responsibility of the state,” and sets a nine-year period starting from this fiscal year as an intensive implemen-tation period for government efforts to find and repatriate remains.

The law requires the government to collect remains systematically and effectively. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry set aside ¥2.1 billion from this fiscal year’s budget to cover costs associated with this undertaking.

Returning remains to Japan has not progressed as well as hoped. Of 2.4 million Japanese who died on foreign battlefields or in Siberian internment camps after the war, the remains of 1.13 million still rest at sites overseas. In the past 10 years, the government has collected only 28,000 sets of remains.

Many people are dissatisfied with the ministry’s efforts, saying they are “not well planned.”

The law was passed as legislation was proposed by lawmakers cooperating across party lines. We applaud the fact that the law promotes attempts to make up for the inadequacy revealed in efforts to date. We hope putting the law into effect will add momentum to the collection of remains.

Bumps in the road

An especially important element of the law is the stipulation that greater efforts will be made to study documents stored at public records offices and other facilities overseas to collect information regarding where Japanese war dead are buried. It is clear that the conventional method of relying on the memories and other information provided by fellow soldiers has its limits.

Spelling out that the health, labor and welfare minister will work closely with the foreign minister and other ministers to ensure smooth progress in negotiations with governments of nations where remains lie is also an appropriate measure.

In 2011, it was revealed that remains collected in the Philippines by a nonprofit organization commissioned by the welfare ministry had been mixed with remains of people other than Japanese soldiers.

Reflecting on this, the new law says the government will designate a public corporation as a task force to handle collection of the remains. The new corporation is scheduled to be set up by people involved in groups for families of the war dead. The welfare ministry will establish an expert panel to check progress in these activities.

The government will soon settle on a basic plan encompassing these specific policies, and will launch it this fiscal year. The new structure must function effectively.

Many problems remain unaddressed. Because DNA examinations are essential for identifying remains, the government is working on a database of samples that can be tested. We hope a system in which these samples can be smoothly compared with DNA provided by relatives will quickly be put in place.

About 230,000 sets of remains still lie in China, where remains cannot be collected because anti-Japan sentiment has hampered this operation, and North Korea, a nation with which Japan does not have diplomatic relations. At present, there is no timeframe for when remains might be collected from these countries.

Families are ardently waiting for remains to be returned home. With their feelings in mind, we request that every possible effort be made to realize their wishes.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 22, 2016)

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