Using UN instruments to advocate for older persons’ rights – training for AGE members


Awareness of human rights mechanisms as tools for advocacy and social change is still relatively low among organisations representing older persons. This is why AGE in collaboration with the European Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) organised in October a training on how to use the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to frame older people’s challenges and claim their rights.

What did we learn?

Trainers Ms. Seynabou Benga from Human Dignity and Ms. Marie-Dominique Parent, from OHCHR Europe guided us through the complex human rights framework, using clear language and many examples and case studies. The afternoon session put participants in the centre offering them practical opportunities to identify key issues to be reported to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. They also discussed areas of rights that have not been adequately addressed in the Committee’s General Comment 6, which was adopted in 1995.

AGE_member_training_CA_Oct2019-b Summary of the main points:

Older people’s economic, social and cultural rights

  • Older people’s challenges to access – among others – work, income, education and health care are human rights
  • These rights are guaranteed under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has been ratified by all EU Member States
  • Older persons have the same and equal rights with everyone else, but Member States need to take into account the specificity of older age when adopting measures to realise these rights
  • Human rights are not just ideals; they entail obligations. Member States need to take measures to respect, protect and fulfil human rights
  • The obligation to respect is about avoiding any action that interferes with human rights; the obligation to protect is about preventing the violation of rights by others; and the obligation to fulfil is about adopting appropriate measures so that rights can be enjoyed in practice.
  • To monitor States’ efforts to realise the economic, social and cultural rights of older persons we need to evaluate whether the measures (legislative, administrative, etc) put in place by States are available, accessible, adequate and of quality

The role of the Committee

  • States must submit a report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights every 5 years detailing every action they have taken to put into effect the rights included in the Covenant
  • The Committee reviews information submitted by the State and other actors, including NGOs and adopts concluding observations, explains what the State should do to be in conformity with its obligations under the Covenant

AGE_member_training_CA_Oct2019-d The role of NGOs

  • NGOs can contribute to the State report to the Committee, participate in the review process and also follow up and monitor the Committee’s recommendations
  • By providing input, NGOs can enhance the Committee’s recognition of older persons’ concerns and priorities and ensure more pertinent recommendations to the States
  • To draft reports NGOs can collaborate with other organisations, as well as the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in their country that has experience and expertise in working with the Committee. For a full list of NHRIs in EU countries, see here:

Why was the training important?

During this training we learned about the potential of using the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but also about some issues that have been relatively neglected by this instrument and the Committee that monitors its implementation, which could be included in a new international treaty.


This training helped ‘NGOS fight for the rights of older persons in their country using the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This is very important because currently we lack a dedicated convention addressing gaps in the protection of the human rights of older persons’. AGE President, Ebbe Johansen

AGE_member_training_CA_Oct2019-c What did participants say?

Participants overall stated that they improved their knowledge on economic, social and cultural rights and how to engage with the Committee thanks to the training. Whereas they liked the approach and the presentations, some also wished there was more time for interaction and practicing the knowledge gained.

  • “Excellent presentations with informative content and very clearly delivered, very engaging sessions”.
  • “I would have liked more interactive sessions!”
  • “That was a useful and interesting session, I now need to reflect on how to make the best use of this knowledge in relation to EU processes.”
  • “I very much enjoyed the morning session and appreciated the enthusiasm and connection. Speaker’s inspiring.”
  • “Too much info in little time, it would be interesting to have a 2 days course and update”.

What next?

AGE was delighted to partner with the Office of the High Commissioner Regional Office for Europe to improve the capacity of older people’s organisations to advocate at national level. Their human rights expertise complements the grassroots expertise of AGE members and together we can develop rights-based approaches to tackle older people’s challenges. AGE and OHCHR will continue their successful collaboration to improve the capacity of older people’s organisations to make use of human rights instruments but also to better link EU policies with the UN framework bringing visibility of older people’s challenges

More information and material

Training material

Useful resources

For additional information on the training you may contact Nena Georgantzi,

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