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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

The UNHRC Resolution Explained

Why it represents a major step forward for people affected by leprosy.

The Human Rights Council meets in Geneva.

What is the Human Rights Council?

The Human Rights Council is a United Nations body established on 15 March 2006 by a vote of the UN General Assembly. Its role is to promote universal respect for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and address violations of same. The 47-seat Council replaced the 53-seat UN Commission on Human Rights. The Commission was an independent body, but the Council is a subsidiary organ of the UN General Assembly. Members of the Council are elected to staggered three-year terms from among the 192 UN member states.

Who proposed the resolution?

It was proposed by the Japanese government in response to an appeal led by Yohei Sasakawa on behalf of people affected by leprosy around the world. Sasakawa is WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and, since September 2007, the Japanese Government's Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by Leprosy.

Who co-sponsored it?*

At the time the resolution was submitted to a vote, it was co-sponsored by 58 states (31 of which were member states of the Human Rights Council). After the resolution was adopted, Bhutan became the 59th state to sponsor it.

What are the main points?

(1) Each country must be aware of the fact that leprosy-related discrimination is a serious violation of human rights. (2) Each government is requested to take measures to eliminate leprosy-related discrimination. (3) The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is requested to conduct human rights education and awareness-promotion activities concerning leprosy. (4) The OHCHR is requested to conduct research on the efforts made by each country to eliminate leprosy-related discrimination and gather information. (5) The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (a body composed of 18 experts that acts as a think-tank for the Council) is requested to draw up guidelines by September 2009 to end leprosy-based discrimination.

How does this resolution differ from previous resolutions adopted by the Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights?

The Sub-Commission was the main subsidiary body of the Commission on Human Rights. It comprised 26 human rights experts and met for the last time in August 2006. Between 2003, when the issue was first brought to the Sub-Commission's attention, and 2006, it passed a total of three resolutions calling for an end to discrimination against people affected by leprosy. Although the Sub-Commission was entitled to adopt and issue its own resolutions, as an independent research body attached to the Commission on Human Rights, its resolutions were by way of recommendations. The resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in June is different in nature and effect. It has been co-sponsored by 59 governments and unanimously adopted by the 47 member states, all of whom have thus agreed to abide by it and are expected to implement whatever steps are necessary to fulfill its objectives.

What does this mean for people affected by leprosy?

This is the first time so many countries have officially agreed that discrimination toward people affected by leprosy exists and have shown an interest in tackling it. People affected by leprosy who want to see progress made on this issue can now expect to count on their government's understanding and support.

What happens next?

The OHCHR has already been in touch with all Permanent Missions to the United Nations to request information in order to prepare a report to transmit to the Council and the Council's advisory committee by September 22, 2008. There are also plans to hold a meeting to exchange views among relevant actors in December 2008 or January 2009. It is likely that people affected by leprosy will be approached by their governments to assist in the information-gathering process, and also that they will be asked to attend the meeting.

Reference

* CO-SPONSORS
Japan*, Cuba*, Ireland, Spain, Guatemala*, Bangladesh*, Venezuela, Greece, Andorra, Bolivia*, Romania*, Slovenia*, Finland, Brazil*, Montenegro, Egypt*, Philippines*, Netherlands*, Sri Lanka*, Indonesia*, Maldives, Chile, Djibouti*, Mauritius*, Mali*, Austria, Cyprus, Italy*, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom*, Denmark, Thailand, Cameroon*, Nigeria*, Uganda, Serbia, Jordan*, Germany*, Israel, Madagascar*, Slovakia, Australia, Republic of Korea*, China*, Ukraine* Honduras, Czech Republic, Pakistan*, Turkey, Colombia, Senegal*, Saudi Arabia*, Bulgaria, Estonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina*, Nicaragua*, Portugal, Nepal, Bhutan. (* denotes HRC member states)