The sixth session of the UN Open-Ended Working on Ageing (OEWG) took place at the UN headquarters in New York from 14th to 16th July 2015. This year’s session, in which AGE Platform Europe took an active part, marked the increased realisation that the OEWG has spent sufficient time analysing the existing framework and should now move towards drafting a new treaty on the rights of older persons.
AGE Platform Europe, represented by Ebbe Johansen, Vice President and Nena Georgantzi, Policy Officer, participated in the panel discussions and parallel events. Our delegation also included Ciara O’Dwyer from the European Network of National Human Rights Institutes (ENNHRI). ENNHRI is one of our main partners and they are currently undertaking an EU-funded project on the rights of older people in care settings. As to date they do not have participation rights to the OEWG, we were happy to invite them to join our delegation. This gave us the opportunity to build synergies with their work and to strengthen our common activities to promote the rights of older people at the European level.
Meeting with the Independent Expert
On the eve of the OEWG, AGE Platform Europe and ENNHRI were invited by the EU delegation in New York to join a meeting with the Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Older Persons. Ms. Kornfeld-Matte showed appreciation of the EU achievements and took stock of the two visits she did in Slovenia and Austria. She explained that her next thematic report will focus on care and autonomy. She also highlighted that her final report in 2016 will be around the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) and urged both civil society and EU Member States to contribute to that report, by discussing both good practices and gaps. AGE has gathered input its members to contribute to the Expert’s report.
During the 3-day session, EU Member States and civil society organisations discussed recent policy and legal developments on the rights of older people and the potential of the post-2015 development agenda to address this group. On the first day, countries gave introductory statements, showcasing their overall standpoint in the debate around a new UN convention on the rights of older people. The Latin-American statements focused on the need for a new convention, but also highlighted the importance of the recent adoption of the Convention of the Organisation of American States (OAS), which is the first legally-binding document that aims to protect and promote the rights of older persons. The EU delegation made reference to a number of related EU initiatives, including our joint event on the occasion of the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15th June, the Active Ageing Index and the Summit on Active and Healthy ageing. The EU recognised that a lot more should be done to protect the rights of older people but reiterated their view that gaps are not of a normative nature (implying that a new convention is not needed) and that the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) remains a valid text of reference. They suggested a compilation of existing standards, which in the following days was one of the ideas discussed by Member States and civil society as a concrete way forward. Their full statement is available here.
During the first panel, Tine Buffel from Manchester explained the city’s age-friendly initiatives. AGE Platform Europe made an oral intervention supporting the work of Manchester, explaining the potential of age-friendly environments, underlining the need for multi-level governance and the of austerity, which entails barriers for the enjoyment of human rights by older persons. We also made reference to the AFE-Innovnet project, which will launch the EU Covenant on Demographic June in December 2015. You may read our full intervention here. (add link)
On the second day, Johan ten Geuzendam, from the European Commission (DG Justice) gave a presentation on the relevance of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) for older persons, which is available here. He mentioned that in the EU the majority of persons covered by the UNCRPD are older persons and the majority of persons over 64 are covered by the UNCRPD. He also admitted that its implementation is not perfect and raised some questions about how to improve the situation on the ground, including whether it is legitimate to have age limits in support/benefits for disability. Replying to his question, AGE gave some examples illustrating shortcomings of the existing systems of protection of disability, which discriminate against older persons. We proposed specific actions that could be taken at EU and UN level to ensure that the UNCRPD applies equally to older people with disabilities. You may read our statement here.
Four side events took place during the three days. On the first day, there were two parallel events, one disseminating the recent OAS convention and another one on presenting the voices and experiences of older people, in which Ebbe Johansen, AGE Vice-President, gave a European and Danish perspective. ILC Brazil launched a revised Active ageing framework on the 2nd day. On the last day there was an event on regional standards where Nena, AGE Policy Officer, explained the process of the drafting of the Council of Europe Recommendation on the rights of older people and its potential on the European ground.
EU Member States were invited by the Chair of the OEWG to make written submissions of concrete proposals, practical measures, best practices and lessons learned that will contribute to promoting and protecting the rights and dignity of older persons. Nevertheless, as noted by Helpage International, the vast majority of best practices and practical measures that were submitted to the Chair were confined to income security, health, violence and abuse and long term care, revealing a very narrow understanding of human rights and life in older age. Whereas the OEWG was assigned by the General Assembly resolution 67/139 (albeit with a high number of abstentions) to work towards concrete elements of a new binding treaty, it has not yet fulfilled its full mandate. This is why NGOs, a large number of States and the Chair asked for a change in the format of the Working Group in its next session to consider aspects of a new convention. The joint NGO statement, endorsed by AGE, shows the consensus and appeal of civil society to grasp the issue of a convention as part of the OEWG mandate, alongside looking into the existing human rights system. The importance of the work of the Independent Expert was also stressed, clarifying that her mission is complementary to the work of the OEWG, which is a unique intergovernmental and civil society forum to advance the rights of older people. NGOs called for the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert with sufficient resources, so that she is adequately equipped to deliver all aspects of her mission.
This session marked the increasing realization of the need to take concrete action to protect the rights of older persons. This is also reflected in the EU’s external action recently adopted priorities, which include action to ‘increase awareness of the human rights and specific needs of older persons paying particular attention to age-based discrimination’. Unfortunately, the same level of recognition of old age rights cannot be found in EU’s internal affairs. AGE will continue to work with the European Commission to promote a Strategy on Demographic Change to put in effect article 25 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which enshrines the rights of the elderly. In addition, we will work with UN bodies and other civil society organisations to build political support for a new treaty and include awareness of the rights of older people within existing mechanisms.
To read our statements:
- AGE statement on Age-Friendly Environments
- AGE statement on older people with disabilities and the UNCRPD
- Joint NGO statement on a convention on the rights of older persons
For more information you may contact, Nena Georgantzi, Policy Officer, email@example.com
Mr Mateo Estreme, Chair of the OEWG
will be added in the coming days