TOKYO (AP) — In a landmark ruling, Japan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the government to pay adequate compensation to about a dozen victims who were forcibly sterilized under a now-repealed eugenics protection law that was designed to eradicate the offspring of people with disabilities.

An estimated 25,000 people were sterilized without their consent between the 1950s and 1970s to “prevent the birth of poor-quality offspring,” under the law. The plaintiffs’ lawyers describe the law as “the greatest violation of human rights in the postwar era” in Japan.

The court ruled that the 1948 Eugenics Act was unconstitutional and rejected the government’s claim that the 20-year statute of limitations would prevent the government from paying damages.

Wednesday’s decision affected 11 of 39 plaintiffs who fought in five lower courts in Japan to have their cases heard by the country’s highest court. Cases involving the other plaintiffs are still pending.

The plaintiffs, some in wheelchairs, held up signs reading “thank you” and “victory” outside the courthouse after the verdict. “I couldn’t be happier and I could never have done this alone,” said an 81-year-old plaintiff in Tokyo who uses the pseudonym Saburo Kita.

Kita said he was sterilized in 1957 at the age of 14 while living in an orphanage. He told his wife his long-buried secret just before she died several years ago, adding that he regretted that they could not have children because of him.

Judge Saburo Tokura ruled that the sterilization operations were performed “without rational reasons” and in clear discrimination against the plaintiffs because of their disabilities, according to court documents released by their lawyers. The court also said the procedure seriously violated their dignity, adding that the government’s continued discrimination and serious violation of human rights for 48 years was a very serious matter.

In 2019, in response to several lower court rulings holding it responsible, the government offered a one-time compensation payment of 3.2 million yen ($19,800) to each plaintiff. However, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the compensation was insufficient.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed his “sincere regret and sincere apology” to the victims and said he hoped to meet the claimants in person to apologize. Kishida said the government would consider a new compensation scheme.

“The Eugenics Protection Act has created a society that views people with disabilities as ‘inferior human beings.’ We call on society to make further efforts to eliminate prejudice and discrimination in response to the ruling,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Koji Niizato and Takehiko Nishimura, said in a statement.

About 10,000 leprosy patients were also among those who were sterilized while confined in isolation facilities. In 1996, the Leprosy Prevention Act was repealed, allowing them to reintegrate into society. The government has offered them compensation and an apology for the forced isolation policy.

In addition to the forced sterilizations during that time, over 8,000 women were sterilized with their consent, although probably under pressure, while nearly 60,000 women had abortions due to hereditary diseases.

In October, the Supreme Court also ruled that a law requiring transgender people to undergo sterilization in order to change their gender on official documents is unconstitutional. The landmark ruling was welcomed by human rights activists as a sign of the growing acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights.