UNHRC Parallel Meeting: “Message on Leprosy and Human Rights”

Geneva, Switzerland

This program has been underway since 2003. People often ask, “Can leprosy really be cured?” It can be cured. The medicine is distributed free of charge. But what is still rampant is the discrimination against the victims. I spend one-third of the year overseas on educational activities aimed solely at communicating these three facts.

Fifteen million people have been cured over the past 30 years. However, we have focused our energies on medical cures only. We have not thought about the human rights of victims of leprosy. Even after their illness is cured, they cannot return to society.

Of all the numerous diseases that exist–thousands I’ve been told–it is only leprosy whose victims must bear two burdens: one is the disease itself; the other is the stigma attached to it, which leads to their discrimination within society.

Even though 15 million people have been freed of this illness, more than 100 million people, including their families and even cousins, suffer the tragedy of social discrimination.

It is strange that such discrimination against so many people has not become an issue in modern society.

Many people therefore ask why this issue has not as yet been recognized as a right to health issue. However, 15 million people have already been cured of their illness. Yet they cannot board public transportation, they are refused service at restaurants, and they are not allowed to stay in hotels. This is the kind of discrimination they suffer.

Women’s rights, children’s rights, elderly people’s rights, poor people’s rights, disabled people’s rights: all of these cover people recovering from leprosy.

However, leprosy is not included in any of these rights categories.

The fact that this issue has failed to be addressed as one related to human rights is an issue I therefore feel highly responsible for.

I ask for the cooperation of the people here today to work toward a UN resolution on this subject.