Continuing to Work toward a Convention on the Rights of Older Persons

By Hamlin, Helen R.; Mayer, Mary J. et al. | Care Management Journals, October 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Continuing to Work toward a Convention on the Rights of Older Persons


Hamlin, Helen R., Mayer, Mary J., Levy, Valerie, Care Management Journals


A UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN? WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Mary J. Mayer

Since its creation, the protection of human rights has been a cornerstone of the work of the United Nations (UN). Article 1 of its Charter proclaims that one of the purposes of the UN is to achieve international cooperation in promoting and encourag- ing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction regarding race, sex, language, or religion. And, one of the first major achievements of the UN was the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 1948, which stated that "all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights" and are entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration "without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

Note that one important distinction is not included: age. Thus, despite the existence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, older persons are not explicitly recognized under interna- tional human rights laws that legally oblige governments to realize the rights of all people. In effect, older persons' rights are mostly invisible under international law.

What are these rights? Simply put, they are the same rights that are set out in the Universal Declaration: the right to equality before the law; the right to own and inherit property; the right to have adequate income support; the right to work; the right to have access to health care; and, importantly, the right to have freedom from violence and abuse.

Although, historically, ageing has not been a major focus at the UN since its founding, older persons and ageing issues have been specifically recognized by the UN in a number of documents, events, and programs as well as implicitly in others. Insofar as UN documents are concerned, older persons' rights are implicitly protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), both of which apply to everyone regard- less of age. However, apart from the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Their Families (1990), which mandates against age discrimination, as of today there is no legally binding UN commitment to the rights of older persons.

However, there have been other important actions centered on ageing. In its very early days, the UN undertook an extensive worldwide survey on ageing. But it was not until 1969 that a Reso- lution was adopted to investigate and report back by 1973 to the General Assembly on the situation of ageing in the world. Also at that time, an Ageing Unit was created at the UN in the Depart- ment of Economic and Social Affairs where it continues today as the Programme on Ageing. Study findings providing new data on the expected growth of the world's older population and the rec- ognition that little was known about global ageing led to a sec- ond Resolution in 1978 that called for the convening of a World Assembly on Ageing in 1982-the first major UN event in which ageing was the sole focus. Out of this assembly came the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing.

In 1991, by Resolution of the General Assembly, the UN Principles for Older Persons were formulated covering five areas: independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment, and dignity. It is appropriate to note that these principles were based on materi- als first proposed by the International Federation on Ageing (IFA), 8 years later, the General Assembly declared 1999 the first Interna- tional Year of Older Persons. In the years following, the impact of demographic change that had been primarily a concern of devel- oped nations began to gain momentum in developing countries as well and became an impetus for the convening of the Second World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid in 2002. …

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