2016 World Forum on Hansen’s Disease
“Shaping A Better Future: Historic Significance of Hansen’s Disease Cultural Heritage”
Delegates from 16 countries, the majority of whom are members of the Coalition, gathered in Seoul, Korea, to participate in the World Forum held November 1-3. The logo of the Forum, a bluebird, represented the poem of the same name, written by Han Ha-un, a widely renown poet in Korea in the 1940s and 1950s, who contracted Hansen’s disease.
The focus of the forum was to “form a social consensus on the preservation of tangible and intangible Hansen’s disease cultural heritage, foster international cooperation for alternative use of former Hansen’s disease facilities, and promote endeavors to list Hansen’s disease heritage sites as UNESCO World Heritage sites,” according to Lee Kil Yong, President of the Korean Federation of Hansen’s Disease Associations (KFHA), the organizer of the Forum. Notably, KFHA was founded and is led and managed by people who have experienced Hansen’s disease.
Information about the shared as well as unique heritage of several sites around the world including China, Columbia, Japan, Korea, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, and Taiwan was presented. Programs related to reconnecting families, from families who had ancestors who lived at Kalaupapa, Hawai’i, to a program today managed by IDEA Ghana where people living in leprosy communities—some for many decades--are returning to their homes. Other presentations made by delegates from South Africa and Brazil, focused on memory and healing, activism and resistance. For the first time, a representative from the Fortress of Spinalonga in Greece, participated in an international forum on Hansen’s disease heritage, discussing the Island’s Tentative Listing for World Heritage. Participants also heard about the issues people with Hansen’s disease still face today, from representatives from India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Thailand.
Chung Sy-kyun, Chairman of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, one of the highest ranking officials of the Korean federal government, gave a congratulatory address at the opening ceremony. This was followed by a reading of the Seoul Declaration by representatives from 16 countries, each reading a point in their mother language.
Additional sessions included the status of legal appeals by attorneys in Korea related to the human rights violations experienced by persons who had Hansen’s disease in Korea; and a special session of researchers from various historical and cultural institutions and disciplines in Korea, brought together to discuss the unique and sensitive heritage of Sorok do, a leprosy/Hansen's disease heritage site in Korea.
The Forum provided an excellent opportunity to bring together experts including researchers, people who had experienced Hansen’s disease, government and NGO representatives, and heritage specialists to continue discussions on the heritage movement, inform new individuals and organizations about this process, and continue to identify ways to work together to highlight this important history.