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The Human Rights of Persons with Leprosy: Combatting disease, stigma, and discrimination, Statement of Craig Mokhiber, Chief, Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch, Research and Right to Development Division

17 June 2015

Exhibition and Side Event Hosted by the Nippon Foundation and the Government of Japan
Palais des Nations, 17 June 2015

Thank you, Chair, and thanks to the Nippon Foundation, the Government of Japan, and their partners for hosting this moving exhibit, and this important discussion.

Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases known to humankind.  Historically, people with the condition and their family members have been marginalized, neglected, and denied the most fundamental human rights. 

One of the world’s “neglected diseases”, it affects the poorest, most disadvantaged members of society.

And thousands of people still suffer from the disease.

In many places, they are still subjected to stigma and multiple forms of discrimination, including denial of access to work, education or community life.

But now, more than ever, there is hope.

Hope because it is curable and, if caught early enough, the disabilities it causes can be entirely prevented.

Hope because it has been eliminated as a public health problem in most countries and radically reduced in others.

Hope because in just 25 years, more than 16 million cases of leprosy have been cured.

And hope because, only five years ago, the international community adopted the “Principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.

These principles affirm the dignity of persons affected by the disease, and their entitlement to all human rights, on an equal basis with others.

All human rights.

Civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.

Citizenship rights, family rights, electoral rights, labour rights.

The right to education, to participation, to culture.

Importantly, they prohibit discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, and demand the abolition of discriminatory laws and practices.

And, vitally, they require governments to guarantee affordable health care, free medication, early detection programmes, prompt treatment of leprosy itself, as well as for nerve damage, stigmatic consequences, and psychological and social needs.

All of this represents hope, because, after centuries-- even millennia, of isolating and attacking those who suffer from leprosy, we are now instead attacking the disease itself.

We will eradicate leprosy.  Medical science is doing its part.  But, to be successful, we must also do ours, by eliminating the discrimination and stigma that have helped it to survive for so long, and guaranteeing all human rights, including the right to health, for all.

Thank you.