Making the case for leprosy to be treated as an issue of discrimination
WHO Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa led a delegation to the Sixth Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva in September, on a mission to persuade council members to take up leprosy as a human rights issue. It was his first approach to the HRC, the successor to the Human Rights Commission, since it was formed last year.
A written statement submitted earlier by The Nippon Foundation, of which Sasakawa is chairman, described leprosy as an issue of "multifold discrimination on a far-reaching scale" and urged the HRC to develop a set of principles and guidelines "for defending the human rights of people affected by leprosy."
This message was backed up during the plenary session by an oral statement delivered on Sasakawa's behalf by Dr. P. K. Gopal, president of IDEA* India, which noted that people affected by no other disease continue to suffer discrimination even after they are cured.
Representing the Japanese government, Ambassasdor Ichiro Fujisaki, Japan's permanent representative in Geneva, requested that the issue of leprosy and human rights be taken up as a formal agenda item by the HRC. He also expressed his government's commitment to work alongside Sasakawa, who he said had been appointed as Japan's goodwill ambassador for promoting the human rights of people affected by leprosy.
At the parallel session on leprosy and
Leprosy and human rights was also the subject of a September 25 workshop hosted by The Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation.
Chaired by Professor Kenzo Kiikuni of SMHF, the meeting began with introductory remarks by Goodwill Ambassador Sasakawa, followed by presentations by panelists from three countries.
Dr. Arturo C. Cunanan, head of the Culion Leprosy Control and Rehabilitation Program, Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital, the Philippines, provided a structural analysis of discrimination against people affected by leprosy and how it can be eradicated.
Dr. P. K. Gopal highlighted the existence of discriminatory legislation in India and cited examples of human rights violations in which people affected by leprosy had been denied access to public places such as temples and hotels.
From Brazil, Artur Custodio, national coordinator of MORHAN**, and Dr. Lavinia Schuler Faccini, a professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, described the leprosy situation there and MORHAN's successes in empowering people affected by the disease.
There was also a videotaped message from Professor Yozo Yokota, former special rapporteur on leprosy for the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
In the evening, Japan's Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva hosted a reception attended by about 140 guests, including ambassadors and ministers from 60 countries.
In his speech of welcome, Ambassador Fujisaki said that discrimination against people affected by leprosy was a blot on humanity and that Japan, which has its own history of such discrimination, was committed to raising awareness of the issue . hence its appointment of Sasakawa as a goodwill ambassador.
For his part, Sasakawa emphasized that the issue of leprosy and human rights must be dealt with as an issue of discrimination rather than as a "right to health," since society continues to marginalize people even after they have been cured, and discriminates against their family members as well.
Also present was High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, who paid tribute to Sasakawa for drawing attention to the way that ignorance and intolerance greatly aggravate the effects of leprosy on those whose suffer from it.
IDEA India's Dr. Gopal, who was making his third trip to Geneva to highlight the human rights aspects of leprosy, was upbeat about his latest visit. "This time there was much support from many people. I had good dialogue with ambassadors from different countries and they promised to support our work. This represents great progress, and we need to ensure that it continues."