It is five years since I first approached the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in 2003 to raise leprosy as a human rights issue. Since then, with support from all of you, I made repeated visits to the UN Commission on Human Rights and to its Sub-Commission to encourage them to pursue this long-overlooked topic.
It has taken much time, but at last, on June 18 this year, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously passed a resolution to eliminate discrimination against people affected by leprosy and their families. This resolution adds an important new page to the history of our fight against leprosy, and I am delighted at its passage.
The resolution was submitted by the Japanese government in response to my appeal. Thanks to the government's courteous and diligent approach work, the resolution was ultimately co-sponsored by 59 countries, among them states that are not currently members of the Human Rights Council.
This is truly an epoch-making event. Each government recognized that the problem of discrimination against people affected by leprosy is universal in nature, transcending politics, religion, race, age and sex, and I commend them for their understanding.
The stage is now set for the OHCHR to collect information on measures to eliminate discrimination, and, based on these findings, for the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee to compile a set of draft guidelines to present to the Council by September 2009. I am confident that a specific set of measures will emerge from these guidelines.
Through the ages, countless millions of people affected by leprosy and their families have suffered from discrimination and lived out their days in isolation and exclusion. On the back of their sacrifices our movement has reached this point. I urge all of you to go forward each day with courage and pride. The developments in Geneva represent a big step forward in the quest for dignity and social reintegration.
-Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador