National Conference on Leprosy and Disability

New Delhi, India

DPI and The Nippon Foundation are bound by a common goal: to realize an inclusive society in which everyone has rights and can participate.

As announced in the Global Appeal launch ceremony this morning, DPI and The Nippon Foundation have now become partners. Based on a commitment to the same ultimate goal, we have agreed to collaborate our efforts to end discrimination against those affected by leprosy.

As you know, Mr. Abidi is a strong advocate for disabled people around the world. Dr. Gopal is also an activist and a true fighter for the rights for those affected by leprosy. I am confident that, with their cooperation, we can create new momentum toward our common goal.

The Nippon Foundation has been engaged in the struggle to eliminate leprosy for decades. As I traveled to leprosy colonies around the world for this cause, I started to think that solving the problem of discrimination associated with leprosy was an important aspect that we should also give our attention to.

It was 15 years ago when we approached the United Nations to draw global attention that discrimination is no other than a violation of human rights.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, together with accompanying principles and guidelines.

In addition to calling for the abolition of discriminatory laws, these principles and guidelines clearly state that persons affected by leprosy should assert their human rights.

Since the adoption of this resolution, whenever I visit colonies, I make a point of telling the residents that their human rights are upheld by the United Nations and by their respective governments. Some do not seem to understand what their rights are. In that case, I try to explain their rights as laid out in the principles and guidelines, and tell them that they are entitled to assert them with confidence.

Now, leaders are emerging in leprosy colonies, beginning to speak out. Change is definitely taking place. These leaders negotiate directly with local governments, and this has led to increased special allowance for colony residents and improved equal access to medicine and education. I find these changes very promising.

Today we have with us representatives from governments, NGOs, and international organizations and they are all cooperating to realize these aims. I welcome these positive developments, which are now under way.

As for the disability movement, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability was adopted at the United Nations in 2006, and the whole disability community has been working to realize the principles that are outlined in this convention.

In reality, however, just because a convention or a resolution has been adopted by the United Nations, that alone is not a solution.

Unless each of us understands what is called for and then acts, it will not be possible to change the lives of those facing difficulties.

Over the next three years, DPI and The Nippon Foundation will work on a joint project to promote cooperation between the leprosy and disability communities to end discrimination against leprosy. The Global Appeal launched this morning was the first step.

With us today, we also have representatives from the leprosy and disability communities in India, Brazil, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.

Let us make this conference a site of unity and collaboration—a place where those affected by leprosy and those with disabilities will join hands in realizing our mutual goals.