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Act Now on Older People’s Rights

Campaign Calls for New International Convention to Combat Ageism, Discrimination

Advocates for the rights of older people -- Elisha, from Tanzania (left), and Amarsanaa, from Mongolia -- attend the Open Ended Working Group on Ageing in New York, December 2016. © 2016 Jemma Stovell/Help Age International

This month, older people across the world united in a Global Rally organized by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People, a group comprised of 397 member organizations, including Human Rights Watch, as part of the #AgeWithRights campaign. The campaign, which has reached over 1.2 million people globally, calls on governments to reaffirm that human rights are inherent for all, regardless of age, and that a universal, legally binding convention on the rights of older people is needed to prohibit laws that reinforce ageism and to ensure older people enjoy equal opportunities to live a dignified life.

As we enter the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, high death rates of older people from Covid-19 and discriminatory age-based restrictions introduced to contain the spread of the virus have exposed the dangerous price of ageist attitudes and ignoring older people’s rights.

Older people continue to experience rights violations ranging from age-based discrimination and social and political exclusion, to abuses in nursing home facilities, neglect in refugee camps, and barriers to health care and other essential services. Government forces and non-state armed groups have attacked and committed serious abuses against older civilians in conflicts around the world.

Most of these abuses go undocumented and those responsible are not held to account.

A recent study by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that the current international human rights framework provides “fragmented and inconsistent coverage” of the rights of older people, in both law and practice.

To address this, older people and advocates have been pushing for a new international convention that doesn’t focus on paternalistic notions of protection, but recognizes older people’s intrinsic right to autonomy and to age with dignity.

As the high commissioner’s office concluded in its report, for older people to enjoy their rights equally, UN member states need to adopt an international rights framework that reflects current understandings of ageism, age discrimination, and the experiences of older people, in all their diversity.

As civil society groups and governments convene at the upcoming UN Open-ended Working Group in April, governments should move beyond the usual rhetoric and platitudes about their efforts to protect older people’s rights and begin the process of drafting a convention on the rights of older people so we can all #AgeWithRights.

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