“I had one motto: just keep going”: Evelyne Leandro discusses her experience of leprosy and how it changed her life. (see Opinion)
It was in 2003 that I visited Geneva to call on Dr. Bertrand D. Ramcharan, who was then the acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. My purpose was to urge the United Nations to take up the issue of the discrimination and stigma faced by people affected by leprosy and their families—a human rights problem on a huge scale that history had overlooked for so long.
Dr. Ramcharan frankly acknowledged that the UN apparatus had not addressed this issue and graciously advised me on how to find a way. That meeting was the catalyst for the historic UN General Assembly resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members adopted unanimously by 192 countries in December 2010.
The 2010 UN resolution, which was submitted by the Japanese government and co-sponsored by 84 countries, was accompanied by Principles and Guidelines that list specific actions for eliminating discrimination. Seven years later, at its 35th session in June 2017, the UN Human Rights Council adopted another resolution sponsored by the Japanese government, this time mandating the appointment of a special rapporteur on elimination of leprosy-related discrimination.
The role of this special rapporteur is to verify and report on progress made and measures taken by states for the effective implementation of the Principles and Guidelines and to suggest improvements, should they be necessary. The close cooperation between the Japanese government and those of us in the non-governmental sector has been instrumental in getting us to this point.
I will say it again, but the discrimination and stigma associated with leprosy is an issue that was long ignored. This discrimination stretches far back and is deep rooted, but we are now on the way to ending this history of injustice.
I am very hopeful that the report to be prepared by the newly mandated special rapporteur will show that countries are effectively implementing the Principles and Guidelines that they endorsed when they adopted the UN resolution in 2010.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador