Global Appeal 2013 Launch Ceremony ~To End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy~

London, United Kingdom

It is an honor to launch the 8th Global Appeal in London together with representatives from the United Nations, NGOs working in the field of human rights, partners in the anti-leprosy movement, and leaders of people affected by leprosy.

Leprosy is one of the world’s most misunderstood and stigmatizing diseases. It is a sad fact that even today, when leprosy is completely curable, people with the disease continue to face discrimination. In some parts of the world, it is still difficult for people with leprosy to sustain marriage or travel freely.

Helping to perpetuate this discrimination are various existing laws and regulations. It may be that these laws were not deliberately kept up, but have remained on the statute books, largely forgotten.

Some of these laws date back to a time when public health policy called for the segregation of people with leprosy. This was seen as the only way to protect the health of a nation.

Such notions have since been discredited. But they served to fan the flames of prejudice and discrimination. Their legacy continues to shape public perceptions, even today.

Any such laws that still remain need to be abolished immediately—first, because there are no medical grounds for them; and second, because this is an essential step for restoring the human rights of people affected by leprosy.

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 encouragement, 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.

And therefore, today marks a giant step forward in the battle against discrimination. It holds great significance for people affected by leprosy and their families. But only removing discriminatory laws and regulations does not mean that deeply ingrained attitudes will disappear from people’s hearts.

Someone once said: “The walls around this leprosarium are only 20 centimeters thick, but they hold out an entire world.” Few people live in leprosy sanatoria today, but for many, invisible walls of discrimination still separate them from the rest of society. We may not be aware of this wall, but it exists in our hearts. When we discriminate or show indifference toward those affected by leprosy, consciously or unconsciously, our attitudes may inflict great pain.

Therefore, our 8th Global Appeal focusing on discriminatory laws must be part of a wider public awareness campaign –a campaign that will make us conscious of the pain our attitudes cause.

Today I am happy that we have with us two longtime friends from India. They are Mr. Narsappa and Mr. Venugopal of the National Forum of people affected by leprosy. They are working tirelessly to draw attention to the problems that people affected by leprosy face. They are striving to create a world in which they can live with dignity. I know they will benefit greatly from the knowledge that the IBA is on their side.

Together with Mr. Narsappa and Mr. Venugopal, members of the IBA, and everyone present here today, I call for a world without discrimination against individuals affected by leprosy.

Let us pull down the wall of discrimination. It will not be easy. But if we listen to what people affected by leprosy have to say, look inside our hearts, and share the pain, we will succeed.