World’s Young Activists at War: First, Occupy Wall Street, Next Un-Occupy Palestine

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Credit: Amnesty International

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 6 2020 (IPS) – The world’s young activists, numbering over 3.8 billion, are on the war path.

The rising new socialist movements—which originated with “Black Lives Matter” and “Occupy Wall Street” (one protester’s slogan read: “Un-Occupy Palestine”) — were aimed at battling racism, political repression and institutionalized inequalities in capitalist societies.


In its recent cover story, Time magazine dubbed it “Youthquake” – a new phenomenon shaking up the old order, as young activists lead the fight against right-wing authoritarianism, government corruption and rising new hazards of climate change.

Joanne Mariner, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International (AI), told IPS “it is stunning to see how aggressive government efforts to quash protests, including by killing protesters, have not even succeeded in stopping them in the short run”.

In the long run, far too much is at stake, she said, where the coming years are likely to see more protests rather than fewer.

And it is more so in Asia, says AI, in a recently-released report which reviews human rights in 25 Asian and Pacific states and territories during 2019.

“2019 was a year of repression in Asia, but also of resistance”.

“As governments across the continent attempt to uproot fundamental freedoms, people are fighting back – and young people are at the forefront of the struggle,” says Nicholas Bequelin, AI’s Regional Director for East and South-East Asia and the Pacific.

“From students in Hong Kong leading a mass movement against growing Chinese encroachment, to students in India protesting against anti-Muslim policies; from Thailand’s young voters flocking to a new opposition party to Taiwan’s pro LGBTI-equality demonstrators. Online and offline, youth-led popular protests are challenging the established order,” he added.

Also, the rise of a new generation determined to lead the fight against climate emergency has led to a major youth movement worldwide, resulting in protest marches, with thousands of young people demonstrating in the streets of New York and in several world capitals.

According to Time magazine, the world’s under-30 population has been rising since 2012, and today accounts for more than half of the world’s 7.5 billion people.

Credit: Amnesty International

Asked for the primary reasons for this surge in young activism, Mariner said this new era of youth activism reflects young people’s understanding that it’s their future at stake.

“If they don’t demand more from governments, including a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, their future is uncertain. It is the young who will inherit this fast-warming planet, and they see all too clearly the consequences of their elders’ inaction and irresponsibility,” she argued.

Meanwhile, the Youth Assembly, described as one of the longest-running and largest global youth summits, is scheduled to take place in New York city February 14-16.

The theme of next week’s 25th session will be: “It’s Time: Youth for Global Impact” aimed at underlining the importance of engaging young people, “especially at a time when the youth are influencing and leading movements that can change the world.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International report says China and India, Asia’s two largest powers, set the tone for repression across the region with their overt rejection of human rights.

Beijing’s backing of an Extradition Bill for Hong Kong, giving the local government the power to extradite suspects to the mainland, ignited mass protests in the territory on an unprecedented scale.

Since June, Hong Kongers have regularly taken to the streets to demand accountability in the face of abusive policing tactics that have included the wanton use of tear gas, arbitrary arrests, physical assaults and abuses in detention. This struggle against the established order has been repeated all over the continent, said AI.

In India, the AI report noted, millions decried a new law that discriminates against Muslims in a swell of peaceful demonstrations. In Indonesia, people rallied against parliament’s enactment of several laws that threatened public freedoms.

In Afghanistan, marchers risked their safety to demand an end to the country’s long-running conflict. In Pakistan, the non-violent Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement defied state repression to mobilize against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.

Divya Srinivasan, Equality Now’s South Asia Consultant, told IPS young people across Asia have shown incredible resilience and bravery in their continuing battle against government repression in 2019.

One remarkable feature of these protests is that in many instances, they have been led by women and girls, including those from minority communities, she added.

In India, one of the epicentres of protests against the new anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which discriminates against Muslims, has been the neighbourhood of Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi.

Srinivasan said women and children have braved the winter chill and gathered in huge numbers to continuously occupy a highway around the clock in a peaceful protest that has already lasted over a month.

“The voices of these women, particularly Muslim women, have been bravely opposing the Government’s discriminatory laws, and voicing concerns about the oppression of minorities and police brutality.”

“The Shaheen Bagh protest began on December 14th with around a dozen local women and their children and numbers soon swelled into the hundreds”, she said.

And the site has become a creative space for many children and young people, with singing, storytelling, poetry, and talks happening daily, and drawings, graffiti, posters, photographs, and art installations decorating the roadside where people are camping”

In early 2019, Srinivasan said, India saw another historic protest in the form of the Dignity March, which was a 10,000-kilometre long march through 24 states that brought together thousands of survivors of sexual violence, including many young women and girls, who were raising their voices to call for justice, dignity, and an end to victim-blaming and stigma.”

“Young women across Asia are making their voices heard. We cannot ignore them any longer,” declared Srinivasan, a licensed attorney in India with a background in women’s rights, including work on sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual violence against women.

Asked whether there is a role for the United Nations to either support or give its blessings to these youth activists, AI’s Mariner said: “The UN, including at the highest levels, can and should speak out to demand that governments respect the right of peaceful protest”

She pointed out it was heartening to hear UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemn the killings of protesters in Iraq, “although he has been far less vocal regarding repression elsewhere”.

Also encouraging, from the perspective of UN action, are the numerous UN special rapporteurs who have called on the authorities in Hong Kong, India, and Indonesia, among others, to protect the rights of those who participate in protests, she declared.

The AI repot said people speaking out against these atrocities were routinely punished, but their standing up made a difference. There were many examples where efforts to achieve human rights progress in Asia paid off.

In Taiwan, same-sex marriage became legal following tireless campaigning by activists. In Sri Lanka, lawyers and activists successfully campaigned against the resumption of executions.

Brunei was forced to backtrack on enforcing laws to make adultery and sex between men punishable by stoning, while former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak took the stand on corruption charges for the first time.

The Pakistani government pledged to tackle climate change and air pollution, and two women were appointed as judges on the Maldivian Supreme Court for the first time.

And in Hong Kong, the power of protest forced the government to withdraw the Extradition Bill. Yet, with no accountability for months of abuses against demonstrators, the fight goes on.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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India’s Citizenship Law Triggered by Rising Right-Wing Ideology

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Credit: Foreign Policy

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2020 (IPS) – “Fire bullets at the traitors of the country,” chanted mobs of Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, supporters wrapped in Indian flags in Delhi last week.


It’s been less than a month since protests emerged against the BJP’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a new law to redefine and restrict who is considered an Indian citizen. In a violent crackdown, 27 peaceful protesters have been killed and police have detained 1500 others. BJP vigilante mobs continue to threaten and beat people protesting this controversial bill.

The CAA became law on December 11th, 2019 to provide a path to citizenship for minorities that fled from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan prior to 2014, but its most controversial point is that it specifically excludes Muslims. Critics call it discriminatory and say it threatens the secular nature of India’s constitution by trying to establish a Hindu religious state, or a “Hindu Rashtra,” akin to other religious states like Saudi Arabia or Israel’s attempt for a Jewish nation state.

In addition to the CAA, the Indian government is also planning to implement a National Register of Citizens, also known as the NRC, across the whole nation by 2021. The most recent NRC was implemented by the Indian government in the state of Assam in 2015 forcing Indians to provide documented proof of their citizenship to be considered Indian citizens. The result was the disenfranchisement of 1.9 million mostly Muslim residents who now risk being sent to illegal detention camps as they do not have what the government considers sufficient documentation or “legacy documents” which must date back to the 1970s. People fear that its extension to the rest of the country will not only affect Muslims who are not safeguarded by the CAA, but also the poorest, unlettered parts of society.

According to Indian historian and executive-director of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, Vijay Prashad, the BJP has couched the CAA as a progressive refugee policy which is redundant given that India is already a signatory of the Global Compact for Migration as well as other international treaties on migration and refugees.

“Why not bring these treaties to be ratified by India, why bother to create your own bizarre thing if there’s already an international framework to say that we accept refugees and migration?” he asked rhetorically. “Well it’s because they’ve used the question of migration not for migration itself but to define what is an Indian citizen, which is a very chilling thing because now they are making the claim that Muslims are not citizens in India,” Prashad told IPS News.

Prashad says this is a core part of the BJP’s right-wing ideology. India’s home minister Amit Shah even referred to undocumented Muslim migrants coming from Bangladesh to India as “termites” and “infiltrators” and threatened to throw them into the Bay of Bengal.

India is currently the world’s largest democracy which historically has not used religion as a prerequisite for citizenship. According to Ramya Reddy, human rights lawyer from Georgetown University Law Center, the CAA puts India’s democracy at risk by violating Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian constitution, which deal with equality and liberty.

Protests

Daily protests have been met with extreme violence by the police who have fired stun grenades, smoke bombs, tear gas, and even used live ammunition to shoot and kill protestors. Police have attempted to stop protests by imposing Section 144 of the Penal Code, a draconian law from the British Raj historically used to crush freedom fighters by prohibiting the assembly of more than 4 people. The section of this law, however, is being applied selectively.

“When the radical Hindutva supporters gather, this is not considered an unlawful gathering according to the police because they’re pro-government. The police even escort them,” said Aatir Arshad a Bachelor’s student from Jamia Millia University who’s been involved in recent protests.

Jamia Millia Islamia University, a public college in New Delhi with a majority-Muslim student body, became the center of the protest movement in Delhi after police stormed the university campus, dragged out several students, beat them up and arrested them, including those who were not participating in the demonstrations.

“They rushed into the library, where students were not even protesting, they were just studying for their exams and the police beat them up,” Arshad told IPS News. “That moment was apocalyptic for Jamia Milia Islamia. They also harassed students and then claimed they did nothing.”

Arshad adds that police also entered the mosque on the university campus, beat up the Imam, as well as the guards of the university. Protests are still going on because of the events from that day.

Ahla Khan, an alumnus from Jamia Millia and resident of the Jamia Nagar area, explained to IPS News how on the first day of protests her and her sister were just walking to Jamia University when they got caught in the middle of a confrontation between police and protesters. They ran to the sidewalk and watched as police hit students with batons.

“I was watching a guy standing there, just looking at his phone doing nothing. The police ask him ‘where are you going’ and he doesn’t say anything. And just like that the police start beating him up,” says Khan.

She explains how the protesters have been highly organized and peaceful in Delhi. Many have volunteered to distribute tea in the biting cold weather, organized assemblies and facilitated plays and book readings. Chants and slogans have called for repealing the CAA as well as for Azaadi, or freedom. Police have been more restrained than in Uttar Pradesh (UP) where police violence has been lethal. The Chief Minister of UP called a meeting in late December threatening to seize property of those involved in protests “to compensate damage to public property.”

“In UP police and RSS goons have been barging into people’s houses, hitting them, beating people up, thrashing their entire houses, looting them, TVs and fridges broken,” said Khan.

The government has also made several attempts to prevent media outlets from covering police violence and has blocked the internet is several parts of India where there are massive protests. Internet shutdowns have become commonplace, with the shutdown in Kashmir being the longest ever in a democracy.

International Response

While many protesters are still languishing in jail, the United Nations has voiced concern over the CAA with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, calling for “restraint and urg[ing] full respect for the rights of freedom of opinion and expression and peaceful assembly.” UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s spokesperson stated that the law “would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s Constitution.”

Despite this, Reddy says that this doesn’t have any enforcement as domestic law always takes precedence over international law. Even though the UN has criticized the CAA, “[changes have] to happen domestically or with pressure,” she said. And right now, no other major international powers like the UK, the US, and Canada have come out against this because they’re strong allies [of India],” Reddy told IPS News.

In fact, on a recent visit to Washington, D.C. India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar cancelled a meeting with the House Foreign Affairs Committee after the other members of Congress refused to exclude Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a critic of the CAA, NRC, and India’s actions in Kashmir.

South Asian students in the United States are expressing their dismay with the Indian government by launching a campaign demanding their House of Representatives “express their disapproval through targeted sanctions against Modi government officials until both laws are repealed.” So far, the letter has been signed by the Yale South Asian Society, Harvard College U.S.-India Initiative, Columbia University South Asian Organization, University of Pennsylvania South Asia Society Board, Cornell University South Asian Law Students Association, Brown University South Asian Students Association and Dartmouth University Muslim Students Association Al-Nur, and many other student groups.

Democratic Deficit

Implementing a nationwide National Register of Citizens will cause massive economic disruption, according to a recent report by the Wire. The article states that the NRC in the state of Assam alone, which makes up just 3% of the population, “took almost a decade, required the involvement of over 50,000 government employees and cost more than Rs. 1,200 crore,” or just over 168 million US dollars. While the Indian development dream is flailing with its ranking in hunger slipping annually and unemployment rising, the implications of implementing these exclusionary laws go beyond the marginalization of Muslims to also draining resources from some of the world’s poorest residents.

“This is not about a policy you can really implement,” said Prashad. “You can’t actually, practically expatriate 200 million Muslims.” Prashad also pointed out in his recent article that India’s Muslims form the eighth-largest country in the world.

The point, he adds, is that “this is a marker saying we are redefining citizenship and emboldening the hard-right and mobs on the street to make it clear to Muslims that they are not welcome here and that India is a Hindu country,” Prashad told IPS.

Despite the hard attempt by the government quell any resistance to the CAA, protests have been occurring daily with Muslims, Dalits, Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, farmers, lawyers, workers, writers, and journalists joining together to prevent what could leave millions stateless in “the largest disenfranchisement in human history.”

When asking Aatir Ashad, who’s been protesting daily, about his experience he tells IPS News that whenever there’s a call for a protest, the police just close all of the metro stations so that no one can reach the protest site.

“Great democratic country we’re living in,” he says sarcastically, distressingly, as he prepares for another day of joining the protests.

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NYC Library Ditches Controversial Saudi Royal MBS’ Event

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Human Rights

Protestors rallied outside a library building in Manhattan on Wednesday, carrying placards about Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and referencing the “bone saw” that was reportedly used to dismember Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi prince Mohammad bin Salman. Credit: James Reinl/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 19 2019 (IPS) A New York library appeared to bow to pressure this week when it canceled an event that was being co-hosted by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is accused of a range of human rights abuses.


On Wednesday, the New York Public Library (NYPL) said it was scrapping the so-called Misk-OSGEY Youth Forum, a workshop on Sept. 23 that was being co-hosted by bin Salman’s Misk Foundation and U.N. youth envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake. 

The event had been blasted by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other campaign groups, who said it served to whitewash bin Salman’s reputation after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October last year — reportedly on the crown prince’s orders. 

Evan Chesler, chairman of the NYPL board, said that dropping the workshop was the “appropriate thing to do” after weeks of protests and an online petition that had garnered more than 7,000 signatures.

In a statement, the library said it had cancelled the “space rental” amid “concerns about possible disruption to library operations as well as the safety of our patrons” amid “public concern around the event and one of its sponsors”. 

It remains unclear whether the Misk Foundation will seek an alternative venue for the workshop at short notice. A U.N. spokesman told IPS it was “up to Misk to provide information on whether the event will take place elsewhere or not”.

Saudi Arabia’s mission to the U.N. and the Misk Foundation declined to comment on the controversy.

Protestors rallied outside a library building in Manhattan on Wednesday, carrying placards about Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and referencing the “bone saw” that was reportedly used to dismember Khashoggi, a prominent critic of bin Salman. 

“This week’s protests show that the public will not keep quiet while the leadership of the NYPL, a treasured repository of civilisation, hires our library out to the butcherer of Khashoggi,” Matthew Zadrozny, president of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library, told IPS.

“The NYPL leadership must explain to the public it serves who signed the deal with bin Salman’s foundation and why.”

Kenneth Roth, director of HRW, blasted the “repression-whitewashing event” on Twitter and asked U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres to scrap the partnership between his youth envoy, Wickramanayake, and the crown prince’s charity. 

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of rights group PEN America, said the library had made the “right choice”, addiing bin Salman’s government had “orchestrated the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi”.

“Hosting this event just days before the anniversary of Jamal’s killing would have been particularly appalling not just for his family, friends, and colleagues, but also for those currently being persecuted in the kingdom.”

Nossel also noted that the library “is the crown jewel of the literary community in New York” and it stands for “free exchange of ideas and free expression, qualities that the crown prince has repeatedly disdained in both words and actions”.

The NYPL event was set to see some 300 budding young entrepreneurs learn about green themes, corporate responsibility and other parts of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda.

Khashoggi, a U.S.-based journalist who frequently criticised the Saudi government, was killed and dismembered on Oct. 2 last year after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he collecting documents for his wedding.

The CIA assessed that bin Salman had ordered Khashoggi’s killing. U.N. expert Agnes Callamard has described the death as a “premeditated execution,” and called for bin Salman and other high-ranking Saudis to be investigated.

Officials in Riyadh, who initially said Khashoggi had left the premises unharmed, now say the journalist was killed by a rogue hit squad that did not involve bin Salman. Activists have since pushed for accountability over the killing.

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Calls for Reform, Research and Reorganisation in Leprosy Healthcare

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Human Rights

The 20th International Leprosy Congress (ILC) is being held Sept. 10 to 13 in Manila, Philippines. The conference is hosted every three years and was last held in China in 2016. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

MANILA, Sep 12 2019 (IPS) – Rachna Kumari of Munger in Eastern India’s Bihar state is not yet 30. But she’s already been married at 18, abandoned by her husband after she was diagnosed with leprosy and become an award-winning advocate of the disease. She has traversed a long road. And this week she undertook another step in her journey to fly to Manila, Philippines, as a delegate at the 20th International Leprosy Congress (ILC).


The grassroots leader, who is employed by the International Leprosy Elimination Partnership (ILEP), has also previously traveled to Ethiopia and China to share stories about her life and her work.

Prior to attending the ILC yesterday Sept. 12, she participated in the Global Forum of People’s Organisations on Hansen’s Disease, an event co-organised by Japan’s  The Nippon Foundation (TNF) and Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF). The global forum gave her valuable insights into the universal challenges of leprosy-affected and leprosy advocates such as stigma and lack of financial sustainability, Kumari said.

She said she also gained technical education and management skills, which she feels are crucial for success in advocacy.

She added that when she carries out her work in communities across Munger, she has no official identification to show many of the Hansen’s disease-affected persons she comes across, many of whom are weary of strangers as they continue to face discrimination and stigma.

This simple form of accreditation, Kumari said, played a huge role in advocacy against the disease.

“[In] my community, I have nothing to prove that I am an advocate, a knowledge builder. So, people doubt me, they don’t know if they [can] trust me. A simple document of identification can be a big step to build trust between a community worker and her community,” Kumari told IPS.

Maya Ranavare, who works as a treasurer in Association of People Affected by Leprosy (APAL), in western India’s Maharashtra state, says that partnerships among organisations must not remain in closed rooms but should instead result in collective action that reaches communities.

“There is a sense of competition among  people’s organisations. Instead, we must act collectively. Also, if it is a partnership, then there should not be duplicity. Tasks should be distributed evenly. If one organisation is doing mobilisation, other should work on technical education. This will increase everyone’s skill and ability,” Ranavare told IPS.

According to Dr Arturo Cunanan, the Chief Medical Officer of the Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital in the Philippines, there needs to be programmatic changes in the government public health system. Budgetary allocation, innovation, new research and sensitisation of healthcare workers are all needs of the hour.

“Leprosy elimination is now like a car that has run out of fuel. We need that fuel right now. The fuel is innovation. Take vaccination for example. Why is that even after centuries, we still don’t have a vaccination for universal application?

“Also, we need innovative, easier ways to diagnose leprosy. If you look at Tuberculosis, there are several ways to do a quick test and find out if a person has it. But for leprosy, we still have only clinical test. We need new tools, quicker ways and for all of that we need new investments in innovation, research,“ Cunanan told IPS.

The ILC started runs Sep 10 to 13. The congress will identify the priorities for a future course of action to end leprosy. Currently there are 200,000 new leprosy cases reported every year across the world, with 60 percent of those new cases originating in India.

According to the organisers, the congress will identify the priorities for the future course of action for achieving zero leprosy. The congress also emphasised the importance of partnerships and a new future partnership among the leprosy-affected people’s organisations has already started between HANDA – a Chinese NGO– and PERMATA, an NGO based in Indonesia.

HANDA, which has recently been recognised by the government of China for their skills in project management, finance management and organisational re-structuring, is set to share these crucial skills with PERMATA. 

“We will soon host a delegation from PERMATA in our Guanzhou office. They have a special interest in finance management and we are ready to share our expertise and experience in that area with them,” Sally Qi of HANDA told IPS.

SHF was instrumental in building this partnership and encouraged  both HANDA and PERMATA to start a dialogue on skill sharing, Qi added.

 

‘Conference Emphasises Need for Partnerships to Create a World Without Leprosy’

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Human Rights

Yohei Sasakawa, chair of The Nippon Foundation and World Health Organisation (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, delivered a keynote address at the 20th International Leprosy Congress (ILC). Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

MANILA, Sep 11 2019 (IPS) – Forty years ago, Yohei Sasakawa saw his father moved to tears after meeting and witnessing the suffering of people affected by leprosy – also known as Hansen’s disease. Not only did the patients have a physical illness, but they also suffered from social exclusion and discrimination. It made the young Sasakawa vow to work for the elimination of leprosy from the world – just as his father had been doing.


Decades later, after visiting 120 countries and having meetings with countless policy makers and state leaders, Sasakawa – now the World Health Organisation (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador  for Leprosy Elimination – is delivering on his promise.

At the first day of the 20th International Leprosy Congress (ILC), being held in Manila, Philippines, the chairperson ofThe Nippon Foundation (TNF) called for activists, scholars and those affected the globe over, to rally behind the goal of a world free of  stigma, discrimination and violation of human rights of those affected by leprosy. The ILC, which ends Sep 13, is supported by TNF sister organisation the Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF).

Sharing his experiences, he recalled how he, TNF and SHF lobbied the United Nations to recognise the elimination of stigma against leprosy-affected people as a human rights issue.

Sasakawa reminded delegates that it was a tough journey against several odds as policy makers and diplomats  showed little interest in the human rights of leprosy-affected people. He told the congress how during a 2003 U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, only five members attended the event to discuss stigma as a human rights violation in a room that could accommodate 50.

Not one to give up, Sasakawa kept pursuing the issue until finally in December 2010 the U.N. General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members and accompanying principle and guidelines was passed.

“I believe the elimination has been an important milestone in my journey,” Sasakawa said.

But despite the U.N. resolution and various local laws at country level worldwide abolishing policies like segregation and isolation of the leprosy-affected, society still stigmatises and discriminates against Hansen’s disease patients as well those who work within the field, like health care workers etc.

He said one example of this remains is the classification of leprosy as a neglected tropical disease.

“I would like to express my opposition to leprosy being considered as one of the neglected tropical diseases. Leprosy has never been neglected even for a moment by both persons affected and by people who have worked hard for their betterment. In my opinion, this medical terminology feels like it is looking down on the patients and also shows a lack of respect towards those are fighting against leprosy today. Leprosy is an ongoing issue.”

However, Sasakawa also acknowledged that in other areas — such as the partnerships and networking — there has been great progress. The Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy network was a significant step forward.

“The  collaboration will greatly enhance our work towards achieving ‘Zero Leprosy,’” he said, adding that the strengthening of these partnerships, especially with the governments, was crucial to reach the common goal of a leprosy-free world.

“Whenever I go abroad, I always meet with the national leaders of the countries. We cannot solve the issue of leprosy without their understanding and support. Without their support, we cannot secure the budget for activities to eliminate leprosy and the associated discrimination,” he reminded the congress.

Rachna Kumari, of International Federation of Anti-leprosy Associations or ILEP, who is based in Munger in Eastern India’s Bihar state, told IPS: “We cannot end stigma just by treating leprosy as a health issue.”

If only health workers are assigned to work on leprosy, they will work on medication. That is not enough to solve the problem we face. So, we need education. Government must include information on leprosy in school books. There must be billboards and large posters which can educate both patients and healthcare workers. Only with such a holistic approach we can win this,” Kumari said.

Earlier, delivering the keynote speech, the Philippine Secretary of Health Francisco Duque asserted that his government remains serious about respecting the rights of leprosy-affected people.

“The vision of our Universal healthcare for the Filipino people is deeply tied to the aspirations of the 2016-2020 global strategy for the leprosy and goal number 3 of the SDGs or the sustainable development goals. We remain committed to these goals and aspirations. We are committed to zero stigma, zero disability, zero transmission and  zero disease,” Duque told the congress.

Duque also stressed the importance of partnerships to achieve the goals yet unmet.

“We are only a  few months away form 2020 and our midterm strategy is only getting underway. We must work together. This year’s conference emphasises the need for partnerships to create a world without leprosy. And our success and your success may define the relations we have made and continue to make.

Acknowledging stigma as a “barrier for early detection and treatment“ of leprosy, Huong Thi Giang Tran, WHO’s Director for Disease Control in the Western Pacific also said that stigma limits the opportunity for life and leads to social and economic exclusion. She called for the addressing of stigma at the policy level.

 

The Emergence of a Global Voice for Hansen’s Disease Affected Persons

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Human Rights

Her experience and the chance “to help strengthen Colombia, the world, and my family” through participating in the Global Forum of People’s Organisations on Hansen’s Disease, sponsored by the Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Health Foundation, was like “rising from the ashes” for Lucrecia Vazques from Felehansen Colombia. Vazques’ family was hit hard by leprosy, with not only herself, but her son and one-month-old granddaughter being afflicted. Credit: Ben Kritz/IPS

MANILA, Sep 10 2019 (IPS) – The Global Forum of People’s Organisations on Hansen’s Disease, which was attended by members of people’s organisations from 23 different countries, wrapped up in Manila, Philippines, today Sept. 10 after four days of discussion and deliberation.

The main outcome was a set of recommendations, which included participants stating that those affected by the disease should have more inclusive roles in the global campaign against leprosy.

Asked to share his impressions of the forum with his fellow participants, Joshua Oraga, who is a member of ALM Kenya, a local Hansen’s disease non-profit, told the audience, “We should all familiarise ourselves with the WHO [World Health Organisation] guidelines on strengthening the participation of persons affected by leprosy in leprosy services. That should be our creed, because if you look at that document, you will see that we are the only stakeholders who have an end-to-end role.”

He said that those affected by leprosy or Hansen’s disease had a role in overcoming stigma and discrimination.

“We have a role in the promotion of equity, social justice, and human rights, we have a role in addressing gender issues, we have a role in the dissemination of information, education, communication…. We have a role in advocacy, we have a role in counselling and psychological support, we have a role in training and capacity-building, we have a role in referral services, we have a role in resource mobilisation…. So, we are everywhere!”

Oraga’s enthusiastic impressions in a way defined the outcome of the forum organised by Japan’s Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF) and The Nippon Foundation (TNF), which support elimination of the disease globally and provide information and awareness about the disease through their dedicated website titled Leprosy Today.

The recommendations will be presented on the first day of the International Leprosy Congress (ILC), which is also being held in Manila from Sept. 11 to 13. The recommendations addressed increasing awareness of Hansen’s Disease among the public and governments, calling for greater government support for people’s organisations’ advocacies, taking a larger role in helping to form anti-leprosy policy, and working to build sustainability and more effective networks among organisations spread around the world.

A true people’s forum

To Dr. Takahiro Nanri, Executive Director of SHF, the real value of the recommendations lies not in their details, but in the manner in which they developed.

Nanri noted that the forum’s carefully-planned agenda was quickly thrown off-schedule by the spirited discussions among the participants. “The people really led the forum, and did the work they wanted to do, and I am very happy about that.”

“The recommendations were good ones, but what I think is really important is the process we saw,” he added.

Oraga was likewise pleased and motivated by his experience. Oraga, who had leprosy as a youth, said, “This is the first time I have had the opportunity to take part in a meeting at this level, so imagine my excitement and happiness to be able to come here.”

Oraga also expressed his gratitude for the work that Yohei Sasakawa, World Health Organization’s (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and chairperson of TNF, has done over the last four decades. Sasakawa’s foundations have contributed over USD200 million in financial support for the WHO’s Global Leprosy programme. He also advocated for discrimination and stigmatisation against people affected by Hansen’s disease to be included in the United Nations human rights agenda. The resolution was passed in 2010.

“He has done so much for leprosy around the world, and personally I am grateful. Just think of it, because of Mr. Sasakawa, in three years, maybe leprosy will just be like any ordinary sickness,” Oraga said.

Lucrecia Vazques of Felehansen, Colombia also felt the forum was an extraordinary experience. “It’s been wonderful,” she told IPS through a Spanish translator. “It is like resuscitating after a hard moment.”

Vazques’s bubbly personality belies her own difficult experience with Hansen’s disease, which not only afflicted her, but her one-month-old granddaughter and her son, who was diagnosed first.

“It was hard,” Lucrecia said. “I had no knowledge whatsoever.We thought we would die.”

“But there was something to fight for, and to live for, and here I am. This forum means rising from the ashes. And if I had the choice, I would rise from the ashes again, and I would be right here, to help strengthen Colombia, and the world, and my family,” she said.

Looking ahead

But there is much work to still do.

“Because this was a people-led forum, it gives us direction. As you know, our resources are not limitless. We have an obligation, but it is of course better if we can maximise our efforts, and the recommendations help,” Nanri said.

Nanri reiterated the value of the “process” that he saw evolve during the forum, particularly in the context of the Joint Campaign on World Leprosy Day 2020, which will be observed on Jan. 26 next year.

“This was a step. You don’t go from the ground to the 10th floor in one jump. So now the first step has been taken. The next step is to get the groups around the world to do the activities at the same time,” which is the goal of the joint campaign. “When these recommendations are presented at the ILC, the next step can begin,” he said.