Last spring, there was a ground-breaking political event that rivaled the recent swearing-in of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States. Unfortunately, however, it was one that went largely unnoticed by the world.
On May 30, 2008, Lim Doo-Sung became the first person affected by leprosy to be elected to South Korea's National Assembly- according to Mr. Lim, he is the first person affected by leprosy anywhere to be elected to a national parliament.
During a visit to Geneva last month for an open-ended consultation on ending discrimination against people affected by leprosy, Mr. Lim described his election as the most surprising and encouraging news of the 21st century, given the social discrimination and the prejudice countless generations of people with Hansen's disease have had to endure. "History has been cruel to Hansen's-disease patients," he said. "It has made them suffer unnecessary pain over and over again, from forced segregation and sterilization to abortion and experimentation. They have been treated as patients even after being cured, and have lacked human dignity for a long, long time."
As one who has personally experienced the pain and hurt of stigma and discrimination, Mr. Lim said his electoral success was nothing short of a miracle, and should serve as an inspiration to minorities everywhere. "A miracle happened in 2008. I think this instant is equal to, or even more dramatic, than the election of a black president of the United States."
As an assemblyman, Mr. Lim said, he wants to be a source of hope to people affected by leprosy in South Korea and around the world, to show the potential and energy of people affected by Hansen's disease and "to end this dark period of history."
As he finished speaking, Mr. Lim drew a burst of applause from those listening. It was a show of support for the man and his mission. We wish him well.