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“Millions of older persons are denied their rights” - UN human rights chief

Statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to mark the International Day of Older Persons (1 October 2010)

GENEVA – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, highlighted Friday that “millions of older persons around the world face unequal treatment or denial of their human rights, particularly in relation to their right to personal security, health, social security and adequate standard of living.”

“We must all accept the inevitability of ageing ,” Pillay said on the 20th Anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons. “What we do not have to, and must not, accept is that old age brings with it lesser access to, and enjoyment of, the full range of human rights.”

In the last two decades the global population profile has changed more than at any time in history. One in every ten people is now aged 60 or more. By 2050, that figure will rise to one in five.

“This radical demographic shift has caught many policymakers off guard,” the UN human rights chief said. “Not very long ago, the issue of ageing was considered a matter of importance for only a handful of countries, but statistics now show that every country is concerned.”

“As a result of their invisibility and lack of access to decision-making, the human rights of older persons are often neglected. Many older persons are unemployed and abandoned, many others face violence and abuse by relatives or caregivers which in its cruelest forms can amount to torture,” the High Commissioner said. “Older women are among the most vulnerable, some of them homeless or without a right to inherit from their families, husbands or children.”

“The human rights community has also been slow in realizing that the global agenda and the advocacy efforts at the national level can no longer ignore the rights of older persons.
Pillay said. “Non-discrimination is paramount to the human rights agenda; however, old age has yet to be featured prominently as one of the grounds of discrimination at legislative and policy levels. Positive measures are necessary to eradicate discrimination and exclusion of older persons and to ensure access to services according to their needs””

The High Commissioner emphasized that “while we have less clarity on age-related discrimination, we know that the existing human rights instruments, such as the two Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and on Civil and Political Rights, can and should be used as the tools to identify the necessary measures and entitlements and to engineer the fundamental policy changes required to accommodate this shift in the global demographic.”

Observing that two thirds of the world’s older people live in low- and middle-income countries, Pillay called on Governments to introduce social pension schemes for older people and to adopt adequate measures in such areas as housing, health, transport, access to water and personal security to ensure that they are not discriminated against or left unprotected and that they enjoy an adequate standard of living.

In her message, the High Commissioner also encouraged civil society organizations to widen the scope of their work and become more active on the rights of older people. “Every one of us must prepare for old age,” she said.

The UN human rights chief added that older people are assets to society and can contribute significantly to the development process if given the opportunity. “As such, they need to be empowered and their participation ensured,” she said.

United Nations Principles for Older Persons: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/olderpersons.htm

Human Rights Instruments: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/