Chairman Sasakawa addresses UN Human Rights Council Members [2007/10/03]
A Parallel Meeting on Leprosy and Human Rights
On September 25 in Geneva, during the 6th meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Nippon Foundation sponsored a parallel meeting on leprosy and human rights. Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa noted that though multidrug therapy (MDT) has made leprosy treatable, both those who have had leprosy and their families continue to suffer severe discrimination. He called for the Human Rights Council to address the issue as one of “discrimination and human rights” rather than “disease and human rights.”
The purpose of the parallel meeting was to appeal to Human Rights Council member nations regarding the continuing discrimination suffered by people affected by leprosy. Addressing national representatives at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Mr. Sasakawa explained that, although 15 million people have been cured over the past 30 years, and although the control of the disease is eminent, more than 100 million people, including families of leprosy victims, continue to suffer severe discrimination. He then called for a Human Rights Council resolution demanding the elimination of such discrimination.
Panelist P.K. Gopal, president of IDEA, an organization for people affected by leprosy, introduced examples of actual discrimination, such as the fact that leprosy victims cannot stay at hotels in his country. He called for the Human Rights Council to create guidelines. Dr. Arturo Cunanan, who works with leprosy on Culion Island in the Philippines, said, “People who have recovered from leprosy are not seeking any special rights, but just the ordinary rights enjoyed by other people.”
After the seminar, the representative of the Japanese government sponsored a reception at his official residence. Nearly 140 people were in attendance, representing both national governments and NGOs. In his speech, Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki announced that the Minister of Foreign Affairs had earlier named Mr. Sasakawa “Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by Leprosy.”
Mr. Sasakawa’s appointment is a formal expression of the Japanese government’s approach to issues of leprosy and human rights as part of its international policies on human rights. Mr. Sasakawa will continue activities both under his new title and as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, a post in which he has served since 2001.