6th West Asia North Africa Forum: “Legal Empowerment”

Amman, Jordan

It is a great pleasure to be back in Amman again this year to participate in the sixth West Asia North Africa (WANA) Forum. I would like to begin by expressing my deep gratitude to the host of this forum, His Royal Highness Prince Hassan and members of the working group headed by Dr. Ahmad Mango and Dr. Erica Harper, for the contributions they have made and continue to make for the WANA region.

I have known His Royal Highness Prince Hassan for many years, and time and time again I have been impressed by his wisdom and moved by his unwavering determination to realize a peaceful sustainable development for the WANA region.

There is no question that the WANA region is one of the focal points of the world’s social, economic, political, and environmental activities. However, longstanding conflicts and subsequent uprisings have mired the region with difficult challenges, including threats to human security and political instability. It is from His Royal Highness’ incredible foresight that this annual forum has served as a platform where stakeholders of the region can come together and address the very concerns that are impeding growth and making life difficult for so many.

“Legal empowerment” is the forum theme for this year. It is said that billions of people around the world live outside the protection of the law. The WANA region is no exception. Such exclusions from the rule of law can only have detrimental effects on factors such as economic growth and human development and deter the path to realizing an inclusive society.

I have witnessed this dark reality in my humanitarian work; people who have been excluded from society and from the protection of the law; people who have been impoverished and unaware of their fundamental rights. I feel it was most prevalent among people affected by leprosy.

I say this because leprosy is a disease that has been misunderstood and stigmatized throughout human history. Left untreated, it can cause external damage such as deformities on the face, hands, and feet. The appearance of those affected by the disease struck fear in people’s hearts and led many to believe that the disease was a curse or punishment from God, and many people were forced to be taken away from their families and banished to live in isolation; deprived of all legal, social, and human rights protection; and bound by fetters of everlasting poverty.

Only recently has this situation started to improve. This has been promoted through the collaboration of various stakeholders, including international organizations, governments, NGOs, and those affected by leprosy themselves.

Among the various initiatives, it was the legal empowerment that brought about one of the most positive outcomes. In many countries, discriminatory laws have been abolished. Moreover, organizations of and for people affected by leprosy have been established around the globe, and these people are working hard to be recognized as citizens with equal rights under the law. This has brought about tangible results such as gaining access to public facilities and social resources, but most important of all, to bring the matter to the attention of the various layers of society.

However, I feel that in order to realize a truly inclusive society, efforts to transform the mindsets of the greater population must also take place. I have seen many societies where unjust practices are deeply woven into longstanding customs and traditions, so deep that the existence of such prejudice may be hidden from even the most conscious individuals. I would be pleased if such perspectives are explored in the upcoming discussions that will be held here at the WANA forum.

As leaders representing various countries and sectors of the region, you have gathered, not for your own benefit or the benefit of your country, but for a much greater purpose of attaining a prosperous future for the entire WANA region.

Let us hope that the success of this forum will bring us one step closer to realizing a brighter and more prosperous future for the people of WANA. 

Thank you.