Speakers highlight the role the legal profession can play in effecting change.
Like many people, I thought leprosy had been completely eliminated and was confined to history. Furthermore, I had not appreciated that leprosy was not just only a medical problem but also a human rights issue because of the stigma and the highly developed discrimination faced by the people who suffer from the disease.
As I began to learn more about leprosy, it struck me forcefully that the pernicious and outdated attitudes and laws around leprosy caused great suffering to many people. I must admit that I was absolutely naïve. But now there is no longer room for excuses. With members of the legal profession across the world, we have an opportunity to work together and correct the situation.
As we know, lawyers are integral to the protection of human rights and to upholding the rule of law in their country of practice. Lawyers are also key players in initiating and promoting meaningful law reform. We have often been the voice of the voiceless.
So, today, with bar associations and members of the legal profession from across the globe coming together to endorse this Appeal, promoting an end to all stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, we have two further, specific goals: One, to spread awareness among the world's legal profession, across all jurisdictions, about the discrimination on grounds of leprosy that persists and of the discriminatory laws that reinforce such discrimination; and two, to bolster the international legal profession to work toward the repeal of such legislation in their respective countries.
In 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted principles and guidelines on eliminating leprosy-related discrimination. These clearly state that all existing laws and regulations that discriminate must be abolished.
It gives me great confidence, therefore, that this year's Global Appeal has the support of the International Bar Association - the world's leading organization of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Today marks a giant step forward in the battle against discrimination. It holds great significance for people affected by leprosy and their families.
The living standards of people affected by leprosy have improved drastically and stigma and discrimination are also in decline - but the challenge is a decades-old mindset that is slow to alter.
We now need to increase the pressure for change and work harder to confront human rights violations and challenge the existing 15 discriminatory laws in India that work against us.
I should like to thank the International Bar Association for supporting this appeal against the discrimination that leprosy-affected people have to suffer on a daily basis. We need the full support of the legal profession in our campaign for justice and human rights.
Our ultimate aim for our country, India, and the wider community, is a world with no leprosy and no discrimination against people affected by leprosy. If the International Bar Association can help us change discriminatory laws, a huge step forward will have been taken.