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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

SYMPOSIUM: Putting Principles into Practice

Rio kicks off first in a series of symposia on leprosy and human rights.

Michelle Reis Ledur of Brazil's Special Secretariat for Human Rights makes a point at the February 1 symposium. Photo: Lúcio Alves

The UN General Assembly Resolution adopted in December 2010 on "Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members" includes Principles and Guidelines that serve as both a "bill of rights" for those affected by the disease and a roadmap for states to follow in formulating policies that recognize, restore and uphold those rights.

But how to ensure these Principles and Guidelines are put into practice? Following a conversation he had with former Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Dr. Bertrand G. Ramcharan last May, Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa decided to organize a series of regional symposia with the goal of implementation in mind. In particular, he felt it was important to focus on three actions among those listed in the Principles and Guidelines, which he felt would accelerate efforts to end discrimination.


The first requests states to review whether any laws or institutions still exist that discriminate against people affected by leprosy, and asks that they be amended or abolished. The second calls on states to raise public awareness of, and foster respect for, the rights and dignity of persons affected by the disease. The third urges states to provide opportunities for education and employment and help those living in poverty to improve their standard of living.

However, it is not just states that must act. NGOs, civil society, media organizations and people affected by leprosy also have a key role.

The first symposium was held in Rio de Janeiro on February 1. Organized by The Nippon Foundation and the Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen's Disease (MORHAN), the event drew speakers from several Latin American countries and beyond.

After opening remarks from the organizers, there was a panel discussion with representatives from the Pan American Health Organization, the WHO, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Brazil's Special Secretariat for Human Rights. This was followed by a presentation by Professor Yozo Yokota. As a former member of the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, he helped lay the foundations of the UN resolution.

Later in the day, Professor Yokota was in action again, chairing a discussion on "Leprosy and Human Rights - Brazil and South America." Participants included Brazil's Cristiano Torres, vice-coordinator of MORHAN, and Colombia's Jaime Molina Garzon of Corsohansen, who discussed their experiences as persons affected by leprosy.


A resolution approved unanimously at the end of symposium called on states (in particular, those in the Americas) to implement actions recommended in sections 13 and 14 of the Principles and Guidelines. These urge states to formulate policies and action plans to raise awareness of, and foster respect for, the rights and dignity of persons affected by leprosy, and to consider creating or designating a committee to oversee these activities.

In addition, the resolution contained a recommendation to establish a working group to discuss and formulate action plans and a mechanism to monitor steps taken by states and other actors. The Nippon Foundation is entrusted to play a lead role in organizing the working group, which will consist of experts, NGO representatives, and people affected by leprosy.