No.95 Ambassador’s Message: In Memory of Professor Yokota

I wish to respectfully offer my condolences upon the death of Professor Yozo Yokota, who supported me in my leprosy elimination activities.

When I first became heavily involved in leprosy elimination, my efforts were mostly in support of medical initiatives led by the WHO. At some point, however, I came to see leprosy in terms of the two wheels of a motorcycle: the front wheel represented interventions against the disease, and the back wheel symbolized the fight against stigma and discrimination. Unless both wheels turned at the same time, it would not be possible to truly eliminate leprosy.

In 2003, I called on the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva to raise the issue of leprosy-related discrimination with the Acting UN High Commissioner, Dr. Bertrand G. Ramcharan. Professor Yokota, who was a member of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights at the time, quickly grasped the human rights dimension of the problem and gave me his strong support.

Appointed by the Sub-Commission as the UN’s first rapporteur on leprosy, Professor Yokota accompanied me on visits to Ethiopia, India, Brazil, and other endemic countries. Like a kindly parent or sibling, he lent an ear to those who had been rejected and abandoned, and from a professional standpoint elicited valuable testimony about the severe discrimination they faced.

Without the efforts of Professor Yokota, I don’t believe that the December 2010 UN General Assembly resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, adopted without a vote by 193 countries, and accompanying principles and guidelines, would have been possible.

The loss of a comrade such as Professor Yokota leaves me profoundly saddened. But as I push ahead with my activities, I will carry with me the thought of all he did for persons affected by leprosy and their families, rooted in his love of humanity.
This, I believe, is the way to repay the deep friendship that he showed.

— Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador


WHO Goodwill Ambassador’s Newsletter No.95

MESSAGE: In Memory of Professor Yokota 

REPORT: Hansen’s disease issues in Japan 

TRIBUTE: Professor Yozo Yokota and the road to a UN resolution 

HUMAN STORY: “Don’t tell my husband”

AMBASSADOR’S JOURNAL: Marshall Islands, United States, United Kingdom

NEWS: Special rapporteur visits Brazil; landmark ruling in Japan