Lawyers fight to end discrimination

24 January 2013 – LawFuel Internatinal Law News Network – The Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, Yohei Sasakawa, has called for the abolition of laws that discriminate against leprosy-affected people. Mr Sasakawa is WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Japan’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by Leprosy.

Speaking at the eighth Global Appeal to end stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy, held at The Law Society in London three days before the sixtieth anniversary of World Leprosy Day, Mr Sasakawa described leprosy as “one of the world’s most misunderstood and stigmatising diseases. Even today, when leprosy is now completely curable, people with the disease continue to face discrimination. In some parts of the world, it is still difficult for people with leprosy to remain married or travel freely.”

“Helping to perpetuate this discrimination are various existing laws and regulations. It may be that these laws were not deliberately kept up, but have remained on the statute books – largely forgotten.”

“These discredited laws serve to fan the flames of prejudice and discrimination”, added Mr Sasakawa.

Mr Sasakawa welcomed the support for this year’s Global Appeal of the International Bar Association (IBA), the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. The IBA will reinforce the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 2010, which adopted principles and guidelines on eliminating leprosy-related discrimination. This year, 46 law associations from 41 countries have endorsed the Global Appeal through the IBA.

Akira Kawamura, Immediate Past President of the IBA, stated: “There is no longer room for excuses. You and I and the legal profession can work together to fix this problem today”. He said that the IBA will work to eliminate discriminatory laws and ensure that the human rights of people affected by leprosy are upheld in accordance with the principles enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A key note speaker at the Global Appeal, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Co-Chair of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute, which works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, mentioned India as a country where there are discriminatory laws against leprosy-affected people. “Lawyers are key players in supporting meaningful legal reforms”, she said, “we can be the voice of the voiceless”. Singapore, Nepal, Malta and Thailand are other countries where such legislation is still on the statute book. On immigration, the United States, China and other countries refer to leprosy as a reason for declining entry.

Two leprosy-affected people from India, Vagavathali Narsappa and Guntreddy Venugopal of the National Forum India of people affected by leprosy, spoke at the Global Appeal of their work in India’s 850 self-settled colonies where thousands of leprosy-affected people live. India, however, achieved the World Health Organisation’s elimination target of less than one case per 10,000 people in 2005 as a sign that leprosy is no longer a public health problem. Only Brazil has not yet reached this figure.

Mr Narsappa, Chairman of the National Forum India, said that their “ultimate aim, for our country India, and the wider community, is a world with no leprosy and no discrimination against people affected by leprosy. If the IBA can help us change discriminatory laws, a huge step forward will have been made.”

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