The Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy is issued every year on or near World Leprosy Day.
This year's appeal, which is endorsed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union(IPU), is being launched from New Delhi, India on 30 January 2017.
The following is a conversation between the president of the IPU and the chairman of The Nippon Foundation.
Mr. Yohei Sasakawa:
The Nippon Foundation launched its first annual Global Appeal in 2006. It is a privilege to issue this 12th Global Appeal with the endorsement of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, or IPU. IPU is an organization with a long, distinguished history and global scope. Could you tell us about IPU, your objectives and activities?
Hon. Saber Chowdhury:
IPU is a global organization of national parliaments. Currently our Membership count stands at 171 Parliaments, comprising over 45,000 Members of Parliaments who in turn represent 6.5 billion people across the globe.
Founded in 1889 well before the League of Nations and the United Nations itself at the initiative of two Parliamentarians and men of peace, William Randal Cremer (United Kingdom) and Frederic Passy (France), both of whom were subsequently recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, the IPU is a unique organization and represents the first permanent forum for political multilateral dialogue and negotiations.
Other than working for stronger democracies and effective parliaments that deliver on people’s expectations and promoting global peace, prosperity and sustainable development, parliamentary diplomacy represents an important focus of the work of IPU. It has a growing and deepening relationship with the United Nations and shares its values and ideals. It adds the important parliamentary dimension to work of the UN.
Protecting and promoting human rights has all along been an overriding priority of the IPU and we also have a unique mechanism for ensuring human rights of parliamentarians as human rights defenders.
The Global Appeal seeks to promote the human rights of people affected by leprosy. Could you tell us more about how you see the role of parliaments in ensuring human rights?
As Parliamentarians, legislation is one of our primary functions and we constantly have to review how it can be used as a tool to ensure a better life for the people we represent.
In particular, from a human rights perspective as well as our aspirations for an inclusive society, laws that are discriminatory whether they relate to gender or to any section of the community or to individuals must be identified and repealed.
Mr. Chowdhury, I understand you have played a leading role in efforts to end discrimination against persons affected by leprosy in Bangladesh. How did you become involved, and what have you achieved?
In Bangladesh, the Lepers Act of 1898 effectively segregated people with leprosy from society. This legislation permitted discrimination against people afflicted with leprosy and also had a provision for imprisonment. By repealing this law through a Private Member’s Bill that I promoted and tabled in the Bangladesh Parliament, people with leprosy can be integrated into society and they will also be entitled to receive treatment in all hospitals of Bangladesh, which was not the case earlier.
That is an outstanding achievement. Discrimination against people affected by leprosy exists everywhere, unfortunately, not only in developing countries but in developed countries too. Around the world, I have seen people who have lost their job, their marriage or their place in society just because they were afflicted by this disease. Through no fault of their own, they have been marginalized and left behind. We need to ensure we create an inclusive society in which people affected by leprosy can live with dignity. Does IPU have any actions in mind?
“Leaving no one behind” is the aspirational statement and objective of IPU’s Agenda 2030 and this means that we have to attend to and give priority first to those who are last and most marginalized in society. Whether it is through legislation, formulation of appropriate policies or allocation of necessary resources, Parliamentarians can make a difference and have a major role to play.
Given its global membership platform as mentioned earlier, IPU first wishes to sensitize as many parliamentarians and parliaments as possible on leprosy, and second, promote affirmative action, especially in those countries where this is still a challenge.
In closing, please tell us what sort of society IPU envisions in the future through its activities?
A society that is truly democratic, open, equitable, just and inclusive and one that is based on peace and shared prosperity for all. It is one that not only takes into account the aspirations of the people but also delivers on them.
We share the same vision. I hope many people will join us in taking action.