September 30, 2010, is a day that will go down in history for people affected by leprosy, their family members and all of us engaged in the fight against the disease. The UN Human Rights Council adopted what we have long sought: a resolution approving principles and guidelines to end the discrimination associated with leprosy. This follows two resolutions, in June 2008 and October 2009, that paved the way for this outcome.
The principles and guidelines state that people should not be discriminated against on the grounds of leprosy. They state that people affected by the disease are entitled to all the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other relevant human rights instruments to which their respective states are parties.
They state too that governments should uphold their right to education, employment, access to public services and participation in the community. And they call on governments to remove discriminatory language, including the derogatory use of the term "leper" or its equivalent in any language or dialect, from governmental publications.
I believe the principles and guidelines will be a tremendous source of encouragement to people affected by leprosy everywhere. In particular, they will give momentum to organizations of affected persons that are engaging with local and national governments to gain recognition for their rights.
Since I first brought this matter to the attention of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2003, I have made repeated representations to the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Human Rights Council. From 2008, the Japanese government took up the issue at the latter body. Finally, after seven years, this is the wonderful result.
But there is no time to sit back and celebrate. This resolution must serve as a springboard to restore the dignity and improve the lives of people affected by leprosy and their families. Until that happens, our work is not yet done.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador