International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
From ancient times, leprosy has been feared as a fatal disease. The history of leprosy has been one of severe discrimination, banishment and deprivation of basic human rights.
The discrimination against those once stigmatized by leprosy is deep-rooted and does not easily go away. The disease is now completely curable and isolation policies no longer exist. However, in many parts of the world, there are still people who cannot return to their communities or rejoin their families, and must instead live in isolated sanatoriums or self-settled colonies. Because of the discrimination against them, they are prevented from doing things that other people take for granted, such as going to school, forming friendships, finding work, marrying, or starting a family.
The discrimination reaches across generations; it affects the education, employment, and marriage prospects of children whose parents have had leprosy. As you can see, this social stigma is depriving whole families of their most basic human rights.
In 2003, I approached the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva to draw world’s attention to the discrimination suffered by people affected by leprosy and to convey their silent cries to the world. The support from various countries, NGOs, associations of people affected by leprosy, and other entities amplified those silent cries. After seven years, on December 21, 2010, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the “Resolution for Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and Their Family Members” together with the “Principles and Guidelines.”
The resolution drilled a hole into the thick wall of discrimination that had tormented those affected by leprosy for such a long time. The resolution and Principles and Guidelines will not automatically rid the world of discrimination and prejudice, but if we can translate them into action, it will be a powerful tool to hammer down this wall of discrimination.
As representatives of the various NHRIs, you are dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. As a person who has been working to improve the human rights of people affected by leprosy, I take this opportunity to ask for your kind support.
Since 2006, I have been leading the Global Appeals to End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy. It is a campaign to get the voices of those affected by leprosy out into the world and to restore their dignity and human rights. To date, we have had laureates of the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as world leaders from various fields such as medicine, politics, religion, business, law, and education, join us in spreading the message to the world that discrimination against people affected by leprosy has no place in society.
For the 9th Global Appeal, which will be launched in January 2014, I would like to ask for your endorsement. If all of you who represent the various NHRIs around the globe could declare that you will stand by the people affected by leprosy in your region, it will not only be a tremendous encouragement for people affected by leprosy around the world but a great power helping to safeguard their human rights and recover their dignity.
Furthermore, I ask that you kindly pay attention to the human rights problems against people affected by leprosy in your country. Please consider whether the Principles and Guidelines that were adopted at the UN General Meeting are being implemented in your communities. If you observe any violations, please raise your voice and take measures to improve the condition.
It is difficult to uproot the discriminatory sentiments that have become so deeply ingrained in people’s hearts.
A person once said, “The walls around this leprosarium are only 20 centimeters thick, but they hold out an entire world.”
For many, invisible walls of discrimination still separate them from the rest of society. Tearing down such a wall will not be easy. But if each of us can make an effort to listen to the silent cries of those affected by leprosy, I am convinced that we will be able to slowly but surely drill our way through.
Let us realize a world free of discrimination against people affected by leprosy. Through the 9th Global Appeal, I truly hope that we can work together to get this message out to people all over the world.