Parliamentarians bring a new dimension to the Global Appeal initiative.
|Global Appeal 2017 is the third appeal launched from India, following those in 2006 and 2010.|
Over 300 people gathered in New Delhi, India on January 30 for the launch of Global Appeal 2017 to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy
The 12th in the series of appeals initiated by Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa in 2006 to draw attention to the discrimination that people affected by leprosy continue to face, Global Appeal 2017 was endorsed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Founded in 1889, the IPU is the world body of parliaments and currently has 171 national assemblies as members.
Protecting and promoting human rights is one of the priorities of the IPU, and its president, Saber Chowdhury, an MP from Bangladesh, said that supporting the Global Appeal was in line with these commitments. “We feel it is something very close to our hearts,” he said.
|Chowdhury: what the appeal stands for is “close to our hearts.”|
Referencing some of the individuals and organizations that have backed previous Global Appeals, including Nobel Laureates and most recently the Junior Chamber International, Chowdhury underlined what made the IPU’s support different. “This is the first time that a branch of the government is endorsing the Global Appeal, and I think that is very important. It is also the branch that is responsible for legislation.”
With discriminatory laws still on the books in a number of countries, there is “a real battle that we have to fight, and legislation is going to be at the very top of that battle. And who are the people that are going to legislate? Parliamentarians,” he said.
The IPU president has already shown how this is done. In Bangladesh, Chowdhury was successful in bringing about the repeal of the 1898 Lepers Act through a Private Member’s Bill he tabled in Parliament. The discriminatory act included a provision for imprisonment.
For his part, the Goodwill Ambassador said he was delighted to receive the IPU’s backing and looked forward to working closely with it. In a Handbook for Parliamentarians published for the occasion, he said that in addition to their role in amending or abolishing outdated legislation that discriminates unjustly on the grounds of leprosy, parliamentarians can also play an influential role in raising awareness of the disease and dispelling myths that allow discrimination to flourish.*
|Video message from Prime Minister Modi.
|A choir of children from leprosy colonies in Delhi perform Gandhi’s favorite devotional song, Vaishnav Jan.|
Prime Minister Narendra Modi contributed a video message in which he spoke of Mahatma Gandhi’s enduring concern for persons affected by leprosy and noted that Gandhi’s vision was not just to treat them but to ensure they were part of mainstream society.
The prime minister said there is still a long way to go before leprosy is completely eliminated from India and that work is needed for the socio-economic upliftment of people affected by leprosy so they can make their contribution to nation-building. “We have to strive hard to ensure that these citizens of our country lead a life with dignity that Mahatma Gandhi dreamt of,” he said.
Among those attending were some 100 residents of leprosy colonies around India. They had been present the previous day for the Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation (S-ILF)-sponsored “Rising to Dignity” awards, which honor successful enterprises started with microfinancing from S-ILF. The awards were presented by India’s Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot.
|Rising to Dignity award winners, photographed on January 29.|
As dignitaries gathered on stage, including parliamentarians from India, Sri Lanka, Laos and Myanmar, two recipients of S-ILF scholarships and the IPU president took it in turns to read aloud the text.
Global Appeal 2017 condemns all forms of discrimination on the grounds that a person has or once had leprosy, recognizes and supports the 2010 UN General Assembly Resolution on Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and Their Family Members, and urges all Parliaments “to promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies to end stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy.”
In the afternoon, a roundtable discussion was held to explore ways to achieve the Global Appeal’s goals of a world free of stigma and discrimination. Taking part in the discussions were parliamentarians, people affected by leprosy and representatives of NGOs working in leprosy.
The IPU president, who was one of the participants, said that “we have to prove our commitment through action. We have a list of discriminatory laws; we are going to write to the speaker of each parliament asking for them to be repealed.”
* A Handbook for Parliamentarians: Eliminating Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and Their Families (The Nippon Foundation, January 2017)