The International Bar Association and the Nippon Foundation have formed an alliance to combat the stigma and discrimination against leprosy-affected people

The International Bar Association (IBA) and the Nippon Foundation, Japan’s largest private philanthropic foundation, have formed an alliance to combat the stigma and discrimination against leprosy-affected people which are still prevalent in the world and sustained in some countries by out-of-date and discriminatory legislation.

The launch of this collaboration will be the occasion of the annual Global Appeal to end stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy and their families, organised by the Nippon Foundation, which will be held at the Law Society in London on 24 January next year – three days before the 60th World Leprosy Day. The Global Appeal is led by the Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa, who is the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and the Japanese Government Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by Leprosy.

Mr Sasakawa describes the fight against leprosy and the discrimination it causes as his life’s work. A major breakthrough was achieved in 2010 when the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.

Over the years, the Global Appeal has been supported by influential groups to emphasise the anti-discrimination message. These groups have varied from world leaders, faith groups, human rights NGOs and leprosy-affected people themselves.

Endorsing the latest appeal is the IBA, the world’s leading organization of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Moreover, the Co-Chair of the IBA’S Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, will be giving the keynote address at the Global Appeal event. The IBAHRI works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law.

The target is the list of discriminatory laws and regulations against leprosy-affected people still on the statute books of a number of countries. These include Singapore, Nepal, Malta, Thailand and India – where discriminatory laws still apply in the areas of contesting elections, marriage and divorce, residential eligibility, and employment. On immigration, the U.S., China and many other countries still refer to leprosy as a reason for declining entry.

Comments Yohei Sasakawa: “Leprosy is easily curable today by multi-drug therapy. There are no grounds to discriminate against someone with the disease. We now need to ensure that the UN resolution is fully implemented. I would also like to propose, as the 60th anniversary of World Leprosy Day approaches, that it be made an International Day designated by the UN agencies so that people can more seriously consider this issue.”

Says Akira Kawamura, president of the IBA: “Put simply, as the global voice of the legal profession, the IBA will work to eliminate discriminatory laws, and to ensure that the human rights of people affected by leprosy are upheld in accordance with the principles enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Notes to Editors

  • Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation, launched the first Global Appeal in January 2006, with 12 world leaders including President Lula de Silva of Brazil and former Presidents Ramaswami Venkataraman (India), Mary Robinson (Ireland), Oscar Arias (Costa Rica) and Jimmy Carter (USA). The following year, the Global Appeal was endorsed by 16 leaders from communities affected by leprosy. In January 2008, in London, the Appeal was supported by organisations specialising in human rights and disability issues. In 2009, signatories were faith leaders including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and the President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care at the Vatican. The year 2010 included international business leaders, followed by leading figures from academia in 2011 and, this year, members of the World Medical Association.

  • Yohei Sasakawa places his highest priority of the work to visit endemic countries and spends considerable time for meetings with political leaders, medical personnel and NGO representatives and people affected by leprosy. He has served as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination since 2001, and has also been appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by Leprosy by the Government of Japan. Mr Sasakawa joined the Nippon Foundation as a trustee in 1981, served as President from 1989 and became Chairman on 1 July 2005.

  • The Nippon Foundation’s overall objectives include assistance for humanitarian activities, both at home and abroad, and global maritime development. For over 30 years, the Nippon Foundation has been involved with the global campaign to eliminate leprosy working with the WHO, governments, international organisations and NGOs. One example of this work is the funding, between 1995 and 1999, of free multi-drug therapy (MDT) for every leprosy-affected person in the world.

  • Established in 1947, the International Bar Association (IBA) – the global voice of the legal profession, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership, of more than 45,000 lawyers and 200 plus bar associations and law societies, it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.