AGE organises training session on ‘Why Human Rights Matter’
Many older people do not perceive human rights as something which is relevant to their day-to-day lives. Human rights are either considered a legal term or something that applies to minorities or particularly disadvantaged groups. To tackle this AGE Platform Europe organised a ‘training’ session in the frame of its General Assembly and Annual Conference, aiming to increase understanding about why human rights concepts and approaches make a difference and how they can use existing mechanisms to drive policy change. Although this event was primarily targeting older people’s organisations, it was also open for external participants offering an opportunity to exchange on the main human rights challenges faced by this group and how they can be addressed by the international human rights framework.
The thematic session ‘Why human rights matter’ was moderated by AGE Vice-President, Helen Campbell. It included several high-level speakers with wide experience using human rights based approaches and instruments in practice.
Dainius Puras, presented the focus of his mandate as UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health. He explained that as an independent expert appointed by the UN to examine how the right to health is enjoyed across the world his task is very far-reach and has many implications for the rights of older people. In his approach he takes into account non-discrimination and vulnerability in order to address how far the health needs of all parts of the population are met. Mr. Puras does not have a narrow focus on physical health, but is particularly interested in the factors that impact on mental health. He is also looking into violence and disability, both of which constitute situations that older people find themselves in. The Special Rapporteur builds on the outcome of the work of previous UN experts, including Anand Grover who in 2011 published a thematic study on older persons, focusing on primary health care, long term care, palliative care, and informed consent. Mr. Puras concluded calling on NGOs to support him to build a human rights approach on the enjoyment of the right to health by older persons, which is crucial in the turbulent times Europe is currently going through.
Khaled Hassine, Human Rights Officer at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, supports the UN Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Older Persons in her work. He explained that since it is the first time that the UN appointed an expert to look specifically at the situation of older persons, Ms. Kornfeld-Matte was asked to assess the implementation of the whole human rights framework and also look at the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA). The Expert came to the conclusion that the existing legal and political machinery does not sufficiently address the rights of older persons and called on member states to elaborate on the proposals they have made in the frame of the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing in particular to start drafting a new UN convention. As Ms. Korfeld-Matte’s mandate was recently renewed for another 3 years she is currently looking into issues to frame her work so that rights can become a reality for older people. He explained the role of civil society to follow-up on the recommendations made by the Independent Expert and discussed ways in which they can contribute to her work. He finished stressing the added value of a human rights approach, using a quote by past UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who stated: ‘“human rights matter because they are dependent on only one thing: being human… human rights are not country specific. They are not a reward to good behaviour, or particular to a certain era or social group. They are the inalienable entitlements of all people, at all times and everywhere.”
Prof. Gerard Quinn, from the National University of Ireland Galway, is one of the leading authorities on disability law internationally and has been personally involved the drafting of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In the beginning he stressed that older people are not the same as people with disabilities and it would be wrong to decide on the need for a new UN convention based on such arguments. He also explained that conventions are not about creating new rights; it is just about human rights applying equally to people with disabilities, or children, or women. In the 80s, there were many soft law resolutions on the rights of persons with disabilities, but nothing changed. Disability organisations decided to call for a new UN instrument because policies were based on the deficits of people with disabilities. “If you are flipping the paradigm, framing the disability, old age, in terms of inherent rights of people to live their own life, people can start making their own choices”, he claimed. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) became a driver for change for people with disabilities: it removed many of the tangible obstacles and also lifted them out of invisibility. The UN CRPD also acts as catalyst towards constant improvement. Thanks to EU’s ratification regulations on the use of Structural Funds were amended to better protect the rights of people with disabilities. In addition the Fundamental Rights Agency was given a large funding to focus on independent living. In addition NGOs can now use the conclusions of the UN to drive processes of change at home. These are just a few examples of the concrete impact that UN Conventions can have on the group.
The second part of the event was moderated by Maria Petkova, AGE Secretary and focused on how NGOs can directly engage with human rights so that they become operational in practice.
Nena Georgantzi, AGE Policy Officer presented our online Older Persons’ Self-Advocacy Handbook, which aims to increase understanding of human rights concepts and processes and enhance older people’s capacity to use international instruments to claim their rights at national level. She gave an overview of the handbook: The first two chapters on general human rights issues and the United Nations were launched in 2015, the chapter on the Council of Europe was finalised in 2016, whereas our 3-year project will be completed in 2017 to include information about the European Union. She demonstrated a preview of the handbook and explained how older people can use this information in their work to improve the daily lives of older people. She stressed that human rights are not just theoretical ideas, but practical tools to guide and challenge policymaking. They allow not only addressing the problems, but also their structural root cause, imposing a positive view of older people and old age. She also encouraged NGOs to translate the handbook or parts of it in other languages in order to facilitate dissemination and use at grassroots level.
Freek Spinnewijn, Director of FEANTSA the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless, has wide experience using the system of collective complaints offered under the European Social Charter to challenge policies at national level. Mr Spinnewijn highlighted that NGOs talk too often about human rights but forget that we can use human rights to bring States in front of court and referred to a number of litigation possibilities. He also reminded that Member States have to report regularly to international bodies such as the UN and the Council of Europe. These reports contain a lot of interesting information to be used by associations to lobby at European and national level. Yet NGOs do not use these processes as much as they could. Mr. Spinnewijn further focused on how organisations can use the collective complaints procedure. Although the European Social Charter is a complicated and ‘a la carte’ system, it offers the possibility to monitor how countries are delivering on the commitments they made and hold them accountable in case of failure. Giving examples of cases they submitted together with their national member organisations he argued that collective complaints can help change wrongful policies. He also explained some of the practicalities that NGOs need to take into account before lodging such complaints. He concluded that although it is a time consuming and difficult process it is very rewarding and encouraged AGE members to explore this possibility to advance their strategic objectives, since AGE is granted the right to submit collective complaints.
This event tackled some of the key barriers in the realisation of the rights of older persons, in particular, lack of access to appropriate and timely information, not having a voice and limited opportunities for redress. It encouraged NGOs to start or continue using a human rights narrative in their advocacy at national and European levels and gave concrete examples of how human rights work in practice. AGE will continue offering such capacity building opportunities of its members.