New reports provide evidence on the need for a UN convention on older people’s rights

In the beginning of 2021, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the informal Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) Seminar on Human Rights, shed the light on key gaps in the protection of the human rights of older persons and made recommendations about possible measures at international, regional and national levels. Both reports, which were elaborated and published against the background of the global pandemic and its impact on the equal enjoyment of human rights in old age, make the case for a new UN convention.

OHCHR report highlights the invisibility of older persons in the human rights framework

UN_OHCHR_logo The OHCHR report was commissioned upon the request of several member states, including the EU, to provide an updated study on the existing normative framework on the human rights of older persons. Funded by Germany and Austria, this report looked at the international and regional laws and how policy and practice evolved since 2012 when the last study was published. The report’s findings demonstrate that:

  • Existing human rights treaties were not drafted with a consciousness of ageing and ageism; they are either seriously deficient or too general to guide reforms that are necessary to equally protect and promote human rights in old age
  • UN bodies have only to a limited extent addressed human rights violations against older people; the lack of a dedicated convention contributes to the deprioritisation of older people in the existing system
  • The discussions at the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing and the impact of COVID have shown that current safeguards are insufficient and that there is a need for a coherent, integrated and detailed set of normative standards on the rights of older persons

The report concludes that:

The silences, neglect and relative invisibility of human rights issues of central concern to older persons are so widespread and systemic in the international human rights system that it is clear that fundamental change is required. Simply exhorting existing mechanisms to do more and to include the perspectives of older persons in the execution of their mandates is not enough; a new dedicated normative instrument is needed to comprehensively remedy those deficiencies.

The ASEM paper calls on member states to review their positions on a new convention

ASEM-logo The paper prepared for the informal seminar on the human rights of older persons stresses that ageing policies should be based in the existing human rights framework and that older persons must be seen as the holders of rights and active agents in the conduct of their lives, not the recipients of charity or welfare or having decisions made for them. The paper also notes how ageism is a widespread, deeply embedded, and accepted form of discrimination in our societies. It is both a reflection of and contributor to inequality and discrimination against older persons on the basis of their older age. The paper also explores the challenges of defining who is an ‘older person’ or when ‘older age’ begins, noting that the significance of age is largely socially constructed, that persons in the later stages of life are enormously diverse and experience ageing differently, and that different criteria for determining ‘older age’ or ‘older persons’ need to be applied in different contexts and need to have regard to this diversity and the fact that particular groups of older persons may face intersectional discrimination. This paper also highlights that the types of violations suffered by older persons are not particularly visible in the international human rights system.

This report then makes the several recommendations, including the following:

  • Governments should review their position on the desirability of a new United Nations convention on human rights in older age, consulting closely with national human rights institutions, and organisations of older persons, experts and other interested parties at the national level;
  • explore ways of making better use of existing international, regional and national norms and frameworks to improve the enjoyment by older persons on their human rights;
  • ensure that older persons and their representative organisations are consulted about and participate in policy-making of all kinds.

The main outcomes of the discussions are gathered in Key Messages which was shared with all 53 ASEM Partners after the Seminar.

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