Symposium brings into clearer focus ways to implement Principles and Guidelines.
|Guest of honor: Shri Mukul Balkrishna Wasnik, India's Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, addresses the symposium.|
New Delhi was the venue for the second in a series of five international symposia on leprosy and human rights, exploring ways to implement Principles and Guidelines on the elimination of discrimination against people affected by leprosy and their family members.
Building on the first symposium held in Rio de Janeiro in February, the October 3-4 gathering brought together some 200 participants from governments, UN agencies, NGOs, human rights groups, the media and organizations of persons affected by leprosy. Speakers included India's Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, as well as three members of India's parliament, who announced the formation of cross-party forum on leprosy (see page 8).
With a focus on Asia, the symposium looked at the roles to be played by governments, NGOs, and people's organizations in implementing the Principles and Guidelines, which were adopted as part of a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution in December 2010.
Various government initiatives were held up, such as Thailand's steps to transform leprosy colonies into ordinary communities. The positive impact that NGOs can have was illustrated by the example of JIA, which organizes work camps in leprosy recovery villages in China. As for the part that people's organizations can play, suggestions ranged from translating the Principles and Guideline into local languages, so as to build awareness at the grass roots, to taking responsibility for monitoring the actions of governments. This latter role was illustrated on the second day, when members of the National Forum India posed questions to a bureaucrat from the Department of Disability Affairs.
While recognizing that a convention on leprosy would carry more weight than Principles and Guidelines, speakers said there were still plenty of channels to exploit.
"There's no need to reinvent the wheel," said Javed Abidi, the chairperson of Disabled People's International. "A convention on leprosy may be a worthwhile long-term goal, but until that happens we need to ensure that we benefit from existing systems that are in place." Examples he put forward included the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - "which must be sensitized to ask questions about leprosy whenever a nation comes before it" - and the Universal Periodic Review, the mechanism by which countries are vetted on their human rights record.
Another speaker made the case for utilizing the International Labor Organization. Dr. Anwar Ahmad Rashed Al-Fuzaie said that Convention 111 on discrimination in respect of employment and occupation was one of the most important conventions in the ILO system and could be used to tackle discrimination on the grounds of leprosy.
The symposium also saw the first meeting of an International Working Group (IWG), tasked with formulating plans of action and a mechanism to monitor actions taken by states and other actors.
IWG member Professor Mariko Akuzawa said an advisory committee had met several times in Japan in the run-up to Delhi, but that the discussions had been "rather theoretical." Having people with international perspectives joining together different ideas at the IWG made it much more real, she said. She also praised the symposium for its broad composition of stakeholders and the participatory nature of the process.
The third in the series of symposia, which are being supported by The Nippon Foundation, is planned for the first half of 2013 in Africa.