The Japanese government has promised me that it will submit a resolution on discrimination against people affected by leprosy and their families at the UN Human Rights Council this summer. (This spring, it has already made a statement on the issue.) As well as being grateful for this strong show of support, it is my deep desire that this resolution passes as soon as possible with the backing of many countries.
The recent International Leprosy Congress, which was successfully held under the leadership of Dr. S.K. Noordeen, was a memorable congress for many reasons - not least because of the number of sessions devoted to the human rights aspects of leprosy, and for the input of people affected by the disease from many different countries.
There were also clear signals that the major partners in the fight against leprosy increasingly recognize that human rights considerations must form a central part of the overall effort to create a leprosy-free world. Hence, although I could not stay for the whole congress, I was encouraged to note there was a presentation by ILEP General Secretary Doug Soutar on leprosy and human rights. I look forward very much to ILEP's efforts in this area, because I am sure that its involvement will have a profound impact on the situation.
The fight to eliminate leprosy as a disease has naturally centered on doctors and public health experts. But the struggle on the social front requires more broad-based participation. There are many NGOs in what I call the "non-leprosy community" that are active in the human rights field, and we need to sensitize them to the issues and find ways of working together if we are to attain our goals. More than ever, we also need the cooperation of media organizations and the commitment of political leaders.
A resolution passed at the UNHRC would be a tremendous achievement, but it must be accompanied by an unstoppable social movement from the grassroots up.
-Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador