Official discrimination against people affected by leprosy remains codified by way of more than 100 laws worldwide, and this status quo must end, urged a senior UN official on Friday.
“It is time for all States concerned to make a choice: whether to keep such discriminatory laws against persons affected by leprosy in violation of international human rights standards, or to eliminate such discrimination in law without delay,” said Alice Cruz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.
In a statement issued ahead of World Leprosy Day, which is observed on January 30, Cruz said the incorrect understanding of leprosy as a highly infectious disease by early modern medicine is one of the reasons behind the existence of discriminatory legal frameworks. The official went on to argue that such laws adversely impact the livelihoods of persons affected by leprosy and exclude them from political and civil participation. They also motivate, authorize and normalize rights violations, especially against women, she warned.
According to the official numbers submitted to the World Health Organization (WHO) by 139 countries, 127,558 new leprosy cases were detected worldwide in 2020, indicating a reduction of 37 percent compared to the previous year. However, the true numbers are likely to be substantially higher, given the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has hampered diagnosis and reporting.
At present, India has the highest number of leprosy cases in the world. Earlier this month, India’s national human rights commission identified dozens of laws in the country that discriminate against leprosy-affected persons and called for their removal.
In her report to the UN General Assembly in July 2021, Cruz highlighted at least 30 other countries that still have leprosy-related discriminatory laws in effect, in addition to India.