Human rights bodies back latest appeal to end stigma and discrimination.
National human rights institutions from 39 countries and regions became the latest in a growing list of influential individuals and organizations to endorse the annual Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy.
Global Appeal 2014, the ninth appeal to date, was launched on January 27 in Jakarta, Indonesia, at a ceremony attended by some 250 people, including Indonesia’s Minister of Health, Dr. Nafsiah Mboi, and Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare, Agung Laksono.
Yohei Sasakawa, the WHO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, began the appeal in 2006 as a way to draw attention to the issue of leprosy-related discrimination and focus efforts on alleviating it. He told the ceremony in Jakarta: ““It is a sad fact that even today, when leprosy is completely curable, massive walls of stigma and social prejudice still stand between society and those affected by the disease.”
Faith leaders, educators, and the medical and legal professions are among those who have supported previous appeals, and the Goodwill Ambassador hoped the backing of human rights organizations would now accelerate efforts to resolve the issue. “They are the very organizations that can investigate the various human rights abuses facing people affected by leprosy and their families and take appropriate measures such as making recommendations to their governments,” he said.
Among the signatories represented at the ceremony was Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights. The commission’s Dr. Dianto Bachriadi told the audience that not just the government but the whole country had to be part of the solution, “including religious and public figures.” From India, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, who chairs that country’s National Human Rights Commission, spoke of the need for “an overall change in social perception” to motivate respect for the rights of persons affected by the disease.
Providing the perspective of someone who has personally experienced leprosy was Muhammad Amin Rafi, the coordinator in South Sulawesi for PerMaTa, an Indonesian NGO of people affected by the disease. He described being “ostracized, mocked, insulted and humiliated,” and said that in the past he had frequently contemplated suicide. “All we want is to be treated as human beings and accepted by the community without distinction,” he said.
This year’s appeal references the December 2010 U.N. resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, which was adopted in recognition of the disease’s devastating social, economic and psychological impact. The resolution reaffirms that people affected by leprosy and their family members should be treated with dignity and are entitled to all human rights and fundamental freedoms under customary international law, relevant conventions and national constitutions and laws.
India, Brazil and Indonesia, which together contribute the most cases of leprosy in the world, were among those countries whose human rights bodies signed Global Appeal 2014 and declared: “As national human rights institutions, we applaud the U.N. resolution and condemn all leprosy-related human rights violations. We uphold the right of people affected by leprosy to live in dignity, free from discrimination. We pledge our support to help to bring down the remaining barriers of stigma and prejudice that stand in their way.”