Contributed by Pradeep Bagival.
Recently, The Leprosy Mission, along with the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP), Nippon Foundation, the Government of Japan and other stakeholders, has been actively advocating for the UN to appoint an exclusive Special Rapporteur on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their families. At the UN General Assembly in June, the Human Rights Council agreed to appoint such a position!
People affected by leprosy and their families face barriers that prevent them participating in mainstream society on an equal footing with other citizens in their communities. The discrimination and stigma stemming from misinformation and misunderstanding of the disease has caused growing concern in the UN Human Rights Council. Though national governments and other stakeholders were encouraged to consider the UN’s Principles and Guidelines for elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, there was no authority to monitor their implementation and report to the UN Human Rights Council on the efforts made.
This critical gap in the process spurred leprosy stakeholders including The Leprosy Mission to advocate for an exclusive Special Rapporteur to follow up and report on progress made and measures taken by UN States in implementing the Principles and Guidelines and to make recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur will also engage with a broad range of stakeholders to identify, exchange and promote good practices towards a leprosy-free world. Country visits by the Special Rapporteur are expected to raise awareness about the rights of persons affected by leprosy and to combat stigmas, prejudices and harmful traditional practices and beliefs that hinder their enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms and their equal participation in society. The combined responsibilities of this role will help to ensure that people affected by leprosy and their family members will be able to enjoy their human rights in all regions of the world.
As the oldest leprosy-focused organisation in the world today and with a global presence, The Leprosy Mission is uniquely placed to work closely with the Special Rapporteur by organising visits in collaboration with the relevant national governments, and in advocating for the promotion and protection of the rights and dignity of persons affected by leprosy and their families. The Leprosy Mission is taking a ‘twin track approach’ in not only advocating for this exclusive Special Rapporteur, but also to mainstream the rights of persons affected by leprosy across relevant special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. Another example of this was our successful advocacy to include people affected by leprosy under the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Persons with Disabilities. We hope to ensure that people affected by leprosy and living with disabilities can participate in all spheres of life on an equal basis with others, as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other human rights treaties.
Pradeep Bagival is Head of Advocacy at The Leprosy Mission International Office.