France’s Macron and Italy’s deputy PM urged to stop misuse of “leprosy” in political exchanges
GENEVA (3 July 2018) – Political leaders in France and Italy must immediately stop using “leprosy” as a metaphor in
debates on nationalism, says a UN human rights expert.
“Remarks reportedly made by the French President, Emmanuel Macron, and the Italian Deputy Prime Minister, Luigi Di Maio,
in which leprosy was used as a metaphor for a rise in nationalism, are appalling,” said Alice Cruz, the Special
Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.
Mr. Macron was reported as saying of nationalists: “You can see them rise a bit like leprosy all across Europe, in
countries where we thought that it would be impossible to see them again, in neighbouring countries.”
Mr. Macron’s comments were allegedly followed by a statement by Mr. Di Maio saying: “The real leprosy is the European
hypocrisy of someone who pushes back migrants at [the French-Italian border at] Ventimiglia, and then moralises about
how to manage them.”
The UN expert stressed: “The use of such expressions and references to leprosy in political debate only promotes
misunderstanding of leprosy and discrimination against people affected by it.
“Leprosy has become much more than a disease. It has become a metaphor for everything that is socially considered
‘shameful’ and disrupting and should be kept apart,” Ms Cruz noted.
“National leaders should choose their words appropriately and responsibly, and they should avoid attacking one of the
most marginalised groups,” Ms Cruz added.
“Remarks made by national leaders undoubtedly have widespread implications, and could strengthen the wrongly held view
that leprosy has been eliminated across the world - ignoring the fact that hundreds of thousands of individuals are
affected each year and millions others live with the disease and related stigma and discrimination.
“The view that leprosy no longer exists could lead to a loss of already scarce financial support for scientific
research, public health initiatives and other targeted programmes, including those aimed at combating discrimination and
stigma against those affected.
“We should all lift the veil of stigma and stereotypes that render invisible the actual human beings affected by
leprosy, acknowledge the impact the disease has on them and their family members, and commit ourselves to the protection
and promotion of their rights,” Ms. Cruz emphasized.
The Special Rapporteur reminded France and Italy of their obligations and commitments under the Principles and Guidelines
for the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons affected by Leprosy and their Family members. The document makes
clear that the use of discriminatory language including the derogatory use of the term “leper” or its equivalent in any
language and dialect, is prohibited.
“States that have voluntarily approved the Principles and Guidelines should promote them, and help in the elimination of
discrimination and stigma against people affected by leprosy and their family members,” Ms Cruz stressed.
Ms Alice Cruz (Portugal) was appointed in November 2017 as the first UN Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination of persons affected by leprosy and their family members
. She is an External Professor at the Law School of University Andina Simón Bolívar in Ecuador. Ms Cruz has conducted
fieldwork in Portugal, Brazil, South Africa, Bolivia and Ecuador, and has researched and written on the subject of
eliminating leprosy and the stigma attached to it. Her doctoral work in sociology focuses on the biosocial dimensions of
leprosy and identifies the different barriers to access to early diagnosis and to high quality care by those affected,
as well as their social, economic, family and personal life conditions.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures
of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system,
is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific
country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis;
they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or
organization and serve in their individual capacity.