Protecting human rights of older persons

The following is taken from Newsletter of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the United Nations.  The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations is following the developments of these talks.  Look for more information soon.


The world’s population aged 60 or older is expected to double by 2050, to a record of 21 per cent – representing two billion people. Member States are expressing concerns about the status of older persons revolving around their social and economic situation, their participation in development and their relationship to human rights.

There is a call for increasing the visibility on the world agenda on the issue of human rights protection for older persons. In December 2010, the General Assembly established an open ended working group open to all Members States of the UN with the purpose of strengthening the protection of the human rights for older persons and identifying possible gaps and how best to address them, including more instruments and measures (resolution A/RES/65/182).

Furthermore, the aim is to perceive older persons as active members of society and not only recipients of charity and welfare. It should also be noted that at age 80, women outnumber men by two to one, and are the most vulnerable, facing more social stereotypes, participating less in society and benefiting from fewer available opportunities.

While there is a prevailing culture aimed at youth, older people have gone through a progressive exclusion and marginalization. This has led us to a situation, where there is no specific instrument which relates to the human rights of older people. What exists refers to the universal human rights treaties that do not include older people as a specific segment of society.

Another important gap to be covered with respect to the rights for older persons, refers to the social security coverage. This would worsen in the future if no action is taken; estimates predict an increase of the percentage of older persons living in less developed countries from 63% to 78% by 2050.

Consensus on concerns, but not on the response

Its first working session concluded on 21 April 2011, following a four-day series of panel presentations and discussions on the current situation of the human rights for older persons. Expert panelists from different backgrounds, experiences and origins, analyzed the existing international and regional human rights framework and mechanisms, offering information about recent developments and identifying a number of gaps in the protection systems.

The session showed agreement among Member States, NGOs, UN agencies, intergovernmental organizations and independent experts about the specific human rights challenges faced by men and women as they grow older, pointing out that there is no specific instrument devoted to this segment of the population and few existing instruments have explicit references to age.

Concerns were raised about the age discrimination, neglect and violence, and in response, the empowerment of older persons was observed as a central dimension in constructing their human rights and their participation in development.

Some delegations, experts and NGOs stressed the importance of a dedicated binding instrument that would offer effective protection to older persons, including immediate obligations with regard to non-discrimination and guarantees of non-retrogression of all protected rights.

As a conclusion, there were several proposals in response to the voice of concern around the rights of older persons; including a new international convention on the human rights of older persons and a special rapporteur to study and report on the situation of older persons. Other measures mentioned were effective monitoring of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA), more effective implementation of existing instruments, strengthening national data collection, desegregation and update and improving national monitoring mechanisms.

Addressing more specific issues and rights

The second working session will take place in New York on 1-4 August and will focus on more specific issues and rights. There will be panel discussions and interactive dialogues on the following topics that appear consistently and repeatedly around the world: discrimination and multiple discrimination, right to health, violence and abuse, social protection, age and social exclusion.

In addition, there will be several side events organized by NGOs on topics such as “Disability Rights, Access to Palliative Care, and Lessons from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities process”; “The right to health: in conversation with older people”; and “violence against the elderly”.

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