It has been six years since I first raised leprosy as a human rights issue before a United Nations body. Since my initial approach to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2003, much has happened.
With the cooperation of NGOs, people affected by leprosy and most recently the government of Japan, a draft set of principles and guidelines to end discrimination against people affected by leprosy and their families was drawn up in August. This was provided for by a Human Rights Council resolution unanimously approved in June 2008. At this stage, the principles and guidelines fully reflected the concerns of all interested parties, who had been consulted in the process of drawing them up.
The scene was set for the Japanese government to move to have them endorsed at the 12th Session of the Council in September. Unfortunately, when the draft document was being reviewed by the HRC Advisory Committee, a sentence was added condoning the practice of isolating people with leprosy. While it specified that this should only be on a temporary basis, and in the context of public health consideration, there is no justification for this whatsoever.
I expressed my grave concerns about this to the Japanese government. Taking note of my concerns and the concerns of others, the Japanese government decided to refer the principles and guidelines back to the Advisory Committee for review. After further consultations, they are to be resubmitted to the Council at a later date. Fifty-two countries cosponsored this resolution. I thank the Japanese government for its decisive action.
Of course, this means there will be a delay in the ratification of these much-desired principles and guidelines. But my hope is that we will end up with a document that truly makes a difference to the lives of people affected by leprosy and their families. Let us do all in our power to see that this desired outcome is achieved.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador