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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

MESSAGE: Discriminatory Laws and Words

As I have mentioned before, in December 2010 the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. However, the resolution is not binding. We must use it as a tool to carry forward the fight.

To this end, I have planned a series of five regional symposia on Leprosy and Human Rights to familiarize governments, policy makers and related bodies with the Principles and Guidelines that accompany the resolution. The first symposium took place in Brazil in February, attended by representatives of governments, international organizations and NGOs from the Americas. Preparations are now going ahead for the second symposium. Focusing on Asia, it is scheduled for India in October.

The Principles and Guidelines include an important section calling for the abolition of discriminatory laws and regulations. In the Indian state of Orissa, legislation that prevented people affected by leprosy from contesting local elections is being amended. Only a few years ago, India's Supreme Court allowed a ruling made under the law in question to stand. India still has laws that discriminate on the grounds of leprosy, and it would not surprise me if similar laws still exist in other countries too.

Earlier this year, activist Jose Ramirez, Jr. was quick to alert colleagues to a scene he found objectionable in a trailer for an animated movie about pirates. As a result of protests over the way the scene would affect perceptions of the disease, Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures agreed to make a change to the version that went on worldwide general release.

In films, plays and especially the news media, use of the discriminatory term "leper" is still all too frequent. Please let me know when you see an example of this and I will respond. As Goodwill Ambassador, I believe that one of my most important roles is to resolve problems one by one in hopes that these efforts will add up. With your help, I believe they will.

- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador