By Klaus Lachwitz
The Nippon Foundation is one of the most respected welfare foundations in Japan. Since many years it helps persons with leprosy in Brazil, India, South – East Asia and Africa to be included in society and it provided medicine free of charge worldwide to prevent the outbreak of leprosy. In many countries persons with leprosy were isolated, segregated and even incarcerated in remote places. In Japan persons with leprosy were placed in the twenties and thirties of the last century in so-called sanatoria based on a Leprosy Prevention Act which was effective until the late nineties. Leprosy is basically eradicated in Japan, with only a few cases detected annually in recent years, but there are survivors of the sanatoria.
To honour them and to call on the memory power of society the Nippon Foundation organized an international conference on Jan. 26, 2016 in Tokyo titled: Global Appeal to end stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy. It was a remarkable event as many DPO representatives from abroad were asked to speak up in the presence of Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan and many guests representing the civil society and the government of Japan. I had the honour to deliver a statement in a panel discussion together with representatives of the deaf – blind, independent experts on albinism, leprosy advocates etc. and I described the
poor living conditions of many persons with intellectual disabilities in parts of the world; the existence of large institutions neglecting the right to education, privacy and self-determination, the refusal to grant school education for children with intellectual disabilities etc. I finished up with the positive message that more than 150 countries including Japan and countries where leprosy is still a matter of concern, have ratified the UN- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and that persons with leprosy are covered by this legally binding international human rights instrument. There is hope, but all DPOs must work together very hard to press governments to implement the human rights as described in the CRPD such as the right to inclusive education, independent living in the midst of society and equality before the law.
Thanks to Nagase Osamu, Inclusion International’s Council member from Japan who took part in the leprosy conference too, I got the chance to meet the President, the Vice – President and the Officer for international affairs of Inclusion Japan and I was very impressed to learn that this DPO for persons with intellectual disabilities and their families runs many local branches all over Japan with more than 200000 members. There is a big interest to deepen the connections with Inclusion International and to take part in Inclusion International’s General Assembly in Orlando, USA, in Oct. 2016. That`s a great message and I expressed my gratitude and respect for running such an influential DPO in Japan.