Human Rights, Humanitarian Assistance,Refugees
Japanese Initiative in the Efforts to Eliminate Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and Their Family Members
July 26, 2017
1 The Nature of Leprosy and Issue of Eliminating Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and Their Family Members
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. It usually affects the skin and peripheral nerves but has a wide range of clinical manifestations. Most cases of leprosy are non-infectious and do not spread the disease.
Leprosy is a disease that has been scientifically and medically proven to be curable. The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken the initiative in the efforts to eliminate leprosy so that the number of patients has decreased dramatically in many parts of the world over the past few decades. Despite the fact that there is a cure for leprosy today, persons affected by leprosy and their family members around the world continue to suffer from serious violations of human rights which result from misconceptions or a misunderstanding of the disease.
Japan, too, used to have a policy of isolating persons affected by leprosy from the general public. The Leprosy Prevention Law which contained the provision of isolation was not abolished until 1996, after we came to recognize that leprosy is a curable disease thanks to medical progress and that isolation is unnecessary.
2 Japanese Government’s Efforts of Eliminating Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and Their Family Members
The Government of Japan is taking the initiative in the efforts to eliminate discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members in the international arena, while taking into consideration the policy and experiences towards leprosy of the past.
As part of these efforts, the Government of Japan commissioned Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of the Nippon Foundation, to serve as “Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of Persons Affected by Leprosy”, as he has achieved considerable results in his activities to raise public awareness on discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy as a human rights issue. As part of efforts of publication and public awareness, the Global Appeals have been held annually. The Global Appeal 2015 was held first in Tokyo and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the launching ceremony.
3 Recent UN activities on the issue of Leprosy
To take the initiative in the efforts to eliminate discrimination against those affected by leprosy and their family members, Japan submitted a series of resolutions to the Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2008 (PDF), 2009 (PDF) and 2010 (PDF).
The 2008 resolution requested that the HRC Advisory Committee formulate a draft set of principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, which was submitted to the Council accordingly and was “note[d] with appreciation” in HRC and United Nations General Assembly resolutions in 2010. The 2010 resolutions further encouraged governments, relevant United Nations bodies, specialized agencies, funds and programmes, other intergovernmental organizations, national human rights institutions and, as appropriate, all relevant actors in society, including hospitals and schools, to “give due consideration to the principles and guidelines” and were adopted unanimously.
In 2015, Japan submitted another resolution (PDF) to the HRC, on behalf of a cross-regional core-group, composed of Brazil, Estonia, Ethiopia, Japan, Morocco, Portugal and Romania. This resolution requests the HRC Advisory Committee to undertake a study which reviews the implementation of the principles and guidelines and to submit a report containing practical suggestions for the wider dissemination and more effective implementation of the principles and guidelines in order to eliminate discrimination and the stigma associated with leprosy and to promote, protect and respect the human rights of those affected by leprosy, and their family members by June 2017 and was adopted unanimously.
In 2017, Japan submitted another resolution (PDF) to the HRC, on behalf of a cross-regional core-group, composed of Brazil, Ethiopia, Fiji, Japan and Morocco, and the resolution was adopted unanimously. This resolution decides to appoint, for a period of three years, a Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members and encourages the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur to organize seminars on leprosy-related discrimination.
4 Principles and Guidelines
The Principles and Guidelines consist of “Priniciples” which enumerate human rights and fundamental freedoms and “Guidelines” which enumerate rights and freedoms in such fields as “occupation”, “education”, “healthcare”, etc. to be promoted, protected or ensured by states.
It should be noted that the P&G have no binding force and are to be interpreted in a manner consistent with States’ obligations under international human rights law. The outline of the Principles and Guidelines (PDF) are as follows:
- Persons affected by leprosy and their family members should be treated as people with dignity and are entitled to all the human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- States should promote, protect and ensure the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons affected by leprosy and their family members without discrimination on the grounds of leprosy.
- States should recognize that all persons are equal before and under the law.
- States should pay special attention to the promotion and protection of the human rights of women, children and members of other vulnerable groups who have or have had leprosy, as well as their family members.
- States should, where possible, support the reunification of families separated in the past as a result of policies and practices relating to persons diagnosed with leprosy.
- States should promote the enjoyment of the same rights for persons affected by leprosy and their family members as for everyone else, allowing their full inclusion and participation in the community.
- States should encourage and support opportunities for self-employment, the formation of cooperatives and vocational training for persons affected by leprosy and their family members, as well as their employment in regular labour markets.
- States should promote equal access to education for persons affected by leprosy and their family members.
- States should provide persons affected by leprosy at least with the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health care as that provided for persons with other diseases.
- States should recognize the right of persons affected by leprosy and their family members to an adequate standard of living, and should take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote that right.
- States should formulate policies and plans of action to raise awareness throughout society and to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons affected by leprosy and their family members.