In September, the UN Human Rights Council appointed a new Special Rapporteur on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. Out of 11 excellent applicants, the council chose Dr. Alice Cruz of Portugal.
Since Old Testament times, leprosy has been a highly stigmatizing disease. While case numbers have come down dramatically in recent decades through efforts led by the WHO and the effectiveness of multidrug therapy, it is no exaggeration to say that the discrimination persons affected by leprosy face has been overlooked until now.
In 2003, I approached the then UN Commission on Human Rights to seek its support in tackling this issue. Transcending politics, religion, ethnicity and national boundaries, leprosy-related discrimination was a huge problem and unknown to people the world over. Thanks to the cooperation of the Japanese government, a resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2010 with the unanimous support of 194 countries.
Subsequently, Mr. Imeru Yigezu of Ethiopia, a member of the UNHRC Advisory Committee, spent two years compiling a report on the extent to which countries were implementing the Principles and Guidelines that accompanied the 2010 UN resolution. In his report, he strongly recommended the appointment of a Special Rapporteur.
As the UN faces financial constraints, there was a negative attitude toward establishing a new, additional mandate. However, the resolute efforts of Japan’s foreign ministry and Ambassador Mitsuko Shino in Geneva won the understanding of member countries, resulting in Dr. Cruz’s appointment. I very much appreciate this decision and the cooperation of all who were involved in this process.
I look to Dr. Cruz in expectation that she will grasp the realities of the situation in each country as best she is able—in particular, investigating any discriminatory laws, institutions and practices that remain—and help pave the way for persons affected by leprosy to live in a truly inclusive society without discrimination. Let all of us support her in this work.
– Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador
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