Human rights are for all ages – Time of the EU to lead the rallying for a UN Convention

While the protection of human rights is at the core of the European Union’s values and treaties, our rights tend to be challenged as we get older, showing a clear discrepancy between EU’s ideals and practice.

This discrepancy has been violently exposed during the pandemic, as older people’s rights to equal treatment, dignity, care, participation and autonomy have been put at stake as never before. Stigma and ageism have been on the rise.

Against this background AGE launched the #EULeadsTheRally campaign, which aims to to mobilize EU member states and encourage them to speak up in favour of a UN convention.

Why act now?

The call for a UN convention on the rights of older persons is not new, but the current global context makes it even more urgent.

  • For more than 10 years, UN experts and agencies, many states along with NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions have been building the case in favour of a new convention. This debate is taking place at the United Nations’ Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG) mandated to explore – among other issues – the added value of a new convention on older people’s rights. The 11th session of the OEWG will take place from 29 March to 1 April 2021.
  • All EU member states have signed a statement in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Policy Brief on older persons and COVID-19. The Policy Brief called for stronger legal instruments and the need to develop proposals for a new convention.
  • The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is currently finalizing a report funded by the governments of Germany and Austria, which provides further evidence about the gaps and limitations of existing international treaties.
  • The Trio Presidency of the Council of the European Union, composed of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia, asked the EU to fill in gaps in the international human rights system.
  • Citizens have also called for a UN convention on the rights of older persons in the frame of a wide UN consultation.

Why is it important for the EU to act?

To date, no international human rights treaty has been adopted without the support of European states, this is why engaging them is critical.

The EU and its member states have committed on several occasions to advancing the human rights of older persons. But progress is in practice slow, limited and inconsistent. The ongoing debate about the feasibility of a new UN convention allows the EU to demonstrate in practice its leadership to ensuring equal respect of everyone’s rights at all ages.

How can a convention help?

Across the EU and in other parts of the world older people cannot always rely on regional or national system to protect their rights. We need an international instrument so that all of us – no matter where we live – are entitled to the same rights when we are older.

A new UN convention has a transformative potential that can guide future action. It would provide a richer, clearer and more accessible interpretation of universal rights. It would trigger a dynamic of change that might otherwise not happen or not at the needed pace.

A convention would enhance opportunities for individuals and civil society to hold governments to account and access remedy. It would also resolve the extant dispersed and inconsistent engagement with older people’s issues by promoting a systematic mainstreaming of human rights in older age.

What can you do?

In the run-up to this next OEWG meeting, it is particularly important that decision-makers hear from NGOs on the ground about the need to start drafting a convention.

We have developed new tools to help AGE members advocate for a UN convention at national level.

  • A summary (also in French) and full report (also in French) presenting why the EU and its Member States must lead the rallying for a new UN convention; these tools are ready for you to hand them in to policymakers and national governments
  • A short guide for NGOs and self-advocates on why and how to engage with your government for a UN convention
  • A series of tools to go public about your support for a convention, including a practical toolkit about how to counter arguments against a convention.

If you wish to translate any of these advocacy tools or need advice about how to reach out to your government or UN delegates, you may contact the AGE Secretariat.

> You want to campaign for a UN convention?

For more information about this campaign, please contact Nena Georgantzi, Policy Coordinator on Human Rights & Non-Discrimination:

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