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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue on the rights of older persons and the rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

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10 September 2018

AFTERNOON 

GENEVA (10 September 2018) - The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a clustered interactive dialogue with Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, Independent Expert on the rights of older persons, and with Leo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Ms. Kornfeld-Matte informed the Council about her visits to Georgia and Montenegro, and presented her annual thematic report focusing on the social exclusion of older persons.  There was no global strategy for the improvement of the human rights of the elderly or a universal legal instrument specifically focusing on older persons, so it was difficult to define a State’s responsibility in extending protection to the elderly.  Over half of the world’s population was living in urban areas; gentrification and urbanization could increase the social exclusion of older persons so a rights-based approach on ageing was necessary.

Georgia and Montenegro spoke as concerned countries.  The Public Defender’s Office of Georgia also took the floor.

Presenting his report, Mr. Heller said that his report focused in particular on the right to water and sanitation of forcibly displaced persons, including internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in vulnerable situations while on the move, at borders, at reception, and at the destination.  States had no justification for providing displaced persons with substandard water and sanitation services as a means to restrict their entry into the territory.  Mr. Heller also presented reports on his country visits to India and Mongolia.

India and Mongolia spoke as concerned countries.

In the ensuing discussion on the rights of older persons, speakers agreed that social exclusion – consisting of the lack or the denial of rights, goods and services and the inability to participate in social relations – restricted the freedom of choice and the right to dignified life.  They underlined the need for the greater social inclusion of older persons and called for an end to discrimination against them.  It was necessary to adopt a universal convention on the rights of older persons, and to incorporate responsibilities towards older persons into the Sustainable Development Goals.  A comprehensive approach had to include measures against ageism and elder abuse, as well as access to healthcare, housing and social protection.

On the rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, speakers affirmed that the rights of all forcibly displaced persons to drinking water and sanitation went hand in hand with the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  All actors providing water and sanitation services, including international and non-governmental organizations, in their operations had to abide by the principle of accountability.  The human right to water called for a fair distribution and access to water resources.   While internally displaced could not seek international protection, they nonetheless had to be guaranteed access to water as stipulated in goal six of the 2030 Agenda.

Speaking in the clustered interactive dialogue were Togo on behalf of the African Group, Tunisia on behalf of the Arab Group, European Union, Argentina on behalf of a group of countries, Iceland on behalf of a group of countries, Egypt, Slovenia, Holy See, State of Palestine, Brazil, Montenegro, Qatar, Sovereign Order of Malta, Maldives, Thailand, France, Italy, Switzerland, Singapore, Malaysia, Togo, Namibia, Germany, United Nations Children’s Fund, Finland, Tunisia, UN Women, Russian Federation, Philippines, Viet Nam, Trinidad and Tobago, Pakistan, International Committee of the Red Cross, Djibouti, Bahamas, Croatia, Paraguay, Fiji, Spain, China, Ukraine, Kenya, Council of Europe, Australia, Bolivia, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, El Salvador, Benin, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Chile, Angola, Algeria, Nepal, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, United Kingdom, Mexico, Ecuador, Botswana, Portugal, Malta, Jordan, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Burkina Faso, Azerbaijan and Sudan.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: National human rights institutions from Bolivia, Croatia, El Salvador, Germany, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Nigeria, Northern Ireland and the Philippines, members of the Working Group on the Aging of the International Longevity Center Global Alliance, Ltd (in a joint statement with International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse), Swedish Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, HelpAge International, Franciscans International, International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD), Global Action on Aging (in a joint statement with International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations), Health and Environment Program (HEP), International Movement against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) (in a joint statement with Anti-Slavery International and Minority Rights Group International), Alsalam Foundation, Association of World Citizens, Association pour l'Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi, World Barua Organization, Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee, iuventum e.V., and Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII.

Russian Federation spoke in a right of reply.

The Council will reconvene on Tuesday, 11 September at 9 a.m. when it will hold a general debate on the oral update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It will then proceed to hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the final report on the situation of human rights in Burundi.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons (A/HRC/39/50). 

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons – mission to Georgia (A/HRC/39/50/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons – mission to Montenegro (A/HRC/39/50/Add.2).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation (A/HRC/39/55).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation – mission to India (A/HRC/39/55/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation – mission to Mongolia (A/HRC/39/55/Add.2).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation – comment by India (A/HRC/39/55/Add.3).

Presentation of Reports by the Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Older Persons and the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

ROSA KORNFELD-MATTE, Independent Expert on the rights of older persons, said she had carried out a visit to Georgia to collect examples of good practices and identify some gaps.  Georgia was the oldest country in the south of the Caucus and its population was declining, all of which had major implications for the enjoyment of human rights of old persons.  There was no global strategy for the improvement of the human rights of older persons.  In Georgia, the recent adoption of the national action plan on the ageing population had been a highly awaited measure to transform principles into concrete action.  The Independent Expert had also undertaken a trip to Montenegro in April 2018.  The number of older persons in Montenegro had tripled in the last 50 years and the overall population was stagnating.  Ensuring full respect of the rights of older persons in the social protection sphere was a priority and the Government was congratulated for the recent strategy for developing a new social protection system for older persons.  Nonetheless, concern was raised over the considerable number of persons living in absolute poverty, meaning the Government still had to provide social protection and integrated healthcare.

The annual thematic report examined the impact of social exclusion on older persons.  Social exclusion implied the separation of a person or group of persons from the rest of society.  It exacerbated the denial of basic human rights and restricted the possibility of older persons to lead their life.  Over half of the world’s population was living in urban areas and this would increase in years to come.  Gentrification and urbanization could increase the social exclusion of older persons.  There was no universal instrument of human rights specifically focusing on older persons and the lack of attention was reflected even within the Sustainable Development Goals.  There was a need for a human rights-based approach to aging and to combat discriminatory practices.  Older persons had to be considered as active contributors to society, not as a burden.  Social protection was another core element.  Non-contributory schemes were the only way to ensure universal protection and remedy imbalances among different genders.  Specific measures were needed to regulate access to housing, employment, social protection, healthcare, and infrastructure on an equal footing with the rest of the population.  Partnerships and strategic alliances among sectors were encouraged, and States, local authorities, architects, civil society, universities, real-estate agents, private sectors, and older persons themselves were called upon to develop innovative measures responding to the challenge of urban renewal.  The lack of a global instrument to ensure the protection of older persons had major practical consequences.  It was difficult to define clearly a State’s responsibility in extending protection to older persons.  The open-ended working group on aging had continued work to define areas that were not regulated when it came to the protection of older persons.  In closing, Ms. Kornfeld-Matte congratulated Austria for its leadership in this subject, including the initiative to hold a conference on rights of older persons in Vienna in November.

LEO HELLER, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, introducing his reports, said that the thematic report addressed the issue of the human right to water and sanitation of forcibly displaced persons, in particular internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in vulnerable situations while en route, at borders, at reception, and at the destination.  Expressing his surprise at the poor access to water and sanitation that millions of forcibly displaced persons suffered, despite a wide international attention, the Special Rapporteur noted it was because some were forgotten in protracted situations, while others were not receiving what they desperately needed because their needs were not being taken into account or they were not being properly consulted.  Forcibly displaced persons were rights holders, he stressed, underlining that States had no justification for providing them with substandard water and sanitation services as a means to restrict their entry into the territory or to deter people from staying.

Another concern was that humanitarian actors quickly implemented “life-saving” assistance, often without the due participation of displaced persons, while the humanitarian assistance continued to be concentrated on camps while most forcibly displaced persons lived outside of camps.  States, humanitarian actors and other relevant actors, underlined the Special Rapporteur, needed to take an inclusive approach that sought to incorporate forcibly displaced persons in national and local development planning and in supporting local water and sanitation services.  Furthermore, unclear accountability mechanisms in the humanitarian-development nexus were contributing to unsustainable or discontinuous interventions.  The human rights framework and its principles of sustainability, participation, accountability and a cost-efficiency from a human rights perspective, offered consistency to the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation which held in both humanitarian and development phases, underlined Mr. Heller.

Presenting country visit reports, the Special Rapporteur said that in India, the Swachh Bharat Mission or Clean India Mission aimed to end open defecation by October 2019 through the massive installation of millions of toilets across the country.  This was a large step towards the progressive realisation of the human right of the Indian population to sanitation, which could benefit from effectively incorporating the human rights framework to close the gap between the spirit and the formulation of the programme.  As for the visit to Mongolia, which had taken place in April 2018, the Special Rapporteur noted the extreme weather conditions, also underlining the unequal access to drinking water and sanitation services between those living in apartments and houses with centrally connected pipes, and those living in traditional dwellings - the gers.  Mongolia should assess and bridge this gap in terms of the water tariffs and the level and continuity of water and sanitation services.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Georgia, speaking as a concerned country, noted positive gains to help the elderly in the country, including a 2015 roadmap to address the aging population and a State policy concept, adopted in 2016.  In July 2018, in order to improve the social system, a draft law on pension savings was adopted.  This legislation would enable the elderly access to savings proportional to their work earnings.  The cumulative pension and social pensions would increase pensions in the country by nearly 50 per cent.  The Government also promoted the development of a wide range of social services that targeted older persons and which included day care centres and rehabilitation facilities.  Georgia said the Independent Expert could not access situations in the occupied regions in Georgia; however, this was not a special case.  Other Rapporteurs and Experts had been denied access to occupied areas as well.  Georgia recognized that more needed to be done to ensure equal rights to all Georgian people.

The Public Defender of Georgia said that during the past several years, positive steps had been taken by the Georgian Government to assist the elderly, including a roadmap for mainstreaming population ageing issues and the State policy concept on the ageing issue in Georgia, which was adopted by Parliament in 2016.  With that said, however, it was also stated that the implementation of the 2017-2018 action plan was hampered, so there was no regular and stable mechanism ensuring cooperation between State agencies on the given issue.  It was also stated that the majority of older people did not have access to adequate housing, and social services and protection, so they lived in poverty and lacked shelter.  There was discrimination in the area of employment, including hiring, promotion and training of elderly employees.  The elderly were often victims of violence, including from family members, and there were difficulties in identifying instances of violence, with authorities failing to adequately respond to complaints.  The Public Defender of Georgia was, however, ready to continue constructive work with the Georgian Government to improve conditions for the elderly.

Montenegro, speaking as a concerned country, welcomed the report by the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of the rights of older persons, which provided an overview of the normative and institutional framework as well as an assessment of its implementation.  Recommendations were seen as important guidelines for further improving the situation of older persons.  A new strategy for the development of the social protection system for the elderly for the period 2018-2022 had been adopted with an accompanying action plan.  Discrimination remained an issue so maltreatment, violence and abuse of older persons had been regulated in the law on the protection from domestic violence.  The new law on social and child protection prescribed the work of centres for social work, licencing of professional workers and service providers, and accreditation of training programmes.  The Rapporteur’s visit came at a time when Montenegro had been intensifying its Euro-integration efforts, which required legal reforms in a number of areas, including the rights of older persons.

India, speaking as a concerned country, noted that only two weeks was not enough to develop a full picture of the drinking water and sanitation in a country as large and diverse as India.  Drinking water and sanitation were at the top of political priories with access to potable water a personal priority for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  The Swachh Bharat Mission had started in 2014, as a result of which the sanitation coverage had increased from 30 to over 90 per cent in August 2018, and under which 83.2 million toilets had been built, largely as a result of an intensive drive to change behaviours.  India recalled that the right to safe drinking water and sanitation was protected by the Constitution which also prohibited caste-based discrimination.  The Special Rapporteur’s philosophy of “leaving no one behind” was very resonant with the Government of India, which was devoted to development for all and gave priority to less advantaged parts of the society in all its development projects.

Mongolia, speaking as a concerned country, found that Mr. Heller’s report clearly presented both the progress achieved and the challenges that were yet to be addressed with respect to water quality in Mongolia.  A number of recommendations upheld the normative content of human rights with relation to safe drinking water and sanitation and were fully in line with Mongolia’s national priorities.  The Government of Mongolia considered access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a central tenant to upholding human rights and had undertaken efforts to establish legal, policy and institutional frameworks to ensure effective realization of those rights.  In February 2016, Parliament had approved the Sustainable Development Agenda of Mongolia 2030 which envisaged Mongolia becoming an upper middle-income country by 2030.  Mongolia’s Vision 2030 integrated three pillars of economic, social and environmental development.  In addition, a Working Group had been created to review the laws and regulations needed to establish a governmental body dedicated to water affairs.  In addition, new drinking water standards were revised in accordance with the World Health Organization’s Guidelines for drinking water quality.  Mongolia welcomed the call for a joint effort from international development funders to assist the country in improving access to water and sanitation in ger areas.

Interactive Dialogue

Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, agreed with the Independent Expert that older persons were facing isolation, which had an impact on their health and economic status, so an international legal framework on ageing was needed.  The recommendation by the Special Rapporteur to adopt programmes for the provision of water and sanitation for displaced persons was welcomed.  Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, noted that the best way to ensure the protection of older persons would be to incorporate responsibilities towards older persons into the Sustainable Development Goals.  All States had to live up to their duties in ensuring protection to displaced persons.  European Union noted that the report clearly described the multiplicity of factors that could lead to the social exclusion of older persons.  All actors providing water and sanitation services, including international and non-governmental organizations, had to abide in their operations by the principle of accountability.

Argentina, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that by 2050, for the first time, there would be a larger number of older persons than the number of children worldwide, which had important global implications and necessitated the adoption of a human rights approach towards older persons.  The drafting of a universal convention was a step in the right direction.  Iceland, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, noted that within the Nordic welfare model, universal pension coverage as well as numerous other social security measures were incorporated.  How could social security measures be fully implemented without discrimination of any kind?

Egypt agreed that social exclusion – consisting of the lack of or the denial of rights, goods and services and the inability to participate in societal relations - restricted the freedom of choice and the right to dignified living of older persons.  The right of all forcibly displaced persons to drinking water and sanitation went hand in hand with the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Slovenia said that that the dimensions of old-age exclusion, its root causes, and risk factors, pointed to the need for focused action on specific challenges faced by older persons.  What were the good practices of the progressive realization of the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation of forcibly displaced persons in the long-term perspective, after the emergency was over?  Holy See stressed that the human right to water called for a fair distribution of and access to water resources, and underlined the urgency of shared projects and concrete gestures that recognized that every privatization of the natural good of water, at the expense of the human right to have access to this good, was unacceptable.

State of Palestine said it was committed to its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, but it still faced an immense challenge ahead, namely Israel’s continued occupation for more than 50 years.  The relentless expansion of Israeli illegal settlements continued to deprive Palestinians, including Bedouin refugees, of vital water resources.   Brazil stressed the importance of the full and participatory inclusion of older persons in social relations and activities.  In addition to measures against ageism and elder abuse, it was also crucial to ensure that older persons lived a life free of poverty and that they had access to adequate physical and mental healthcare and services, housing and social protection.  Montenegro stated that it had undertaken significant efforts to improve the national framework for the promotion and protection of older persons’ rights.  In order to strengthen its social protection system for the elderly, Montenegro had adopted a new strategy with an action plan defining targeted interventions for further reforming that area and ensuring integrated social and healthcare services for older persons.

Qatar said that their approach towards the rights of older persons had been shaped by fundamental principles, notably religious and traditional, which stressed respect for older persons and promoted their rights.  Legislation guaranteeing older persons their rights, such as social security, housing, work and legal protection, had been established, and awareness raising campaigns educated about the rights and needs of older people.  Sovereign Order of Malta discussed the contributions of their international humanitarian relief agency, Malteser International, which provided basic healthcare services for populations affected by conflict and internally displaced persons.  As clean water was a pre-requisite for a healthy life, the agency’s projects in Africa, Asia and the Americas focused on improving access to water as well as on the treatment and prevention of diseases and disaster preparedness.  Maldives said that the Maldives Gender and Family Ministry had launched a nation-wide campaign “Ranveyla”, to encourage the participation of older people in the family and society, enhance their care and assistance, and to improve their health and emotional well-being.  Maldives, as a small island developing State, was vulnerable to the effects of climate change and had thus commenced a project to enhance rainwater harvesting and storage capacity for 45 islands as well as guaranteeing water security and sewerage services.

Thailand, faced with the second most rapidly ageing population in southeast Asia, had initiated a re-employment strategy whereby active and healthy ageing people would participate in the labour market.  They would also work to improve the collection of age-disaggregated data to monitor and identify gaps in their Sustainable Development Goals, thus ensuring that no one was left behind.  France was dedicated to the preservation of the dignity of its aging population and a law had been adopted to facilitate autonomy for those over 60 living in their own homes in urban areas.  Concerning water quality and sanitation, France was engaged to triple its financial humanitarian donations to this sector by 2022.  Italy mentioned article 38 of the Italian Constitution, which focused on measures to help older people in Italian society, such as supplying special work permits to assist older relatives or exemptions from paying property taxes and the health-care ticket.  Also, under the Budget Law 2018, Italy had envisaged a national plan of interventions in the water sector with the aim of mitigating damages due to drought.

Switzerland noted that in 2017 there were around 68.5 million internally displaced persons around the world and noted that access to water could reduce the risk of displacement and increase the resilience of displaced persons.  Access to water and sanitation was also one of the factors needed for the return to the place of origin of the displaced.   Singapore had a vision to create a nation for all ages, by creating an enabling ageing environment through the action plan for successful ageing, turning ageing into a positive force for social and economic development.  Initiatives ranged from employment and retirement adequacy to transport and healthcare.  Malaysia stressed that the right to safe drinking water and sanitation had to be provided with equitable and affordable access for all.  Measures to foster partnerships between different stakeholders to develop innovative responses to address the issue of gentrification in the context of rapid urbanization were welcomed.

Togo shared the Independent Expert’s view that social exclusion undermined not only the quality of life of older persons but also the sense of justice and social cohesion.  It was noted that reception centres for displaced persons in Togo had modern infrastructure and since 2006 access to potable water had been increasing.  Namibia welcomed both mandate holders and agreed that access to safe drinking water was necessary.  Namibia offered non-contributory schemes for the elderly and offered free medical services.   Germany noted that in most instances, the rights to safe water and sanitation of displaced persons were violated as they were among the principles applied to life-saving interventions in the humanitarian context.  What could be done to improve the situation of displaced persons that lived in urban areas?

United Nations Children’s Fund reminded that one in four children worldwide lived in a country experiencing conflict or disaster.  Among the many threats that those children faced, lack of safe water was the deadliest.  Accordingly, the organization supported the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur to apply a human rights framework to water and sanitation at all times.  Finland shared the concern of the Special Rapporteur about the lack of progress in achieving international targets on sanitation and hygiene services, especially in humanitarian contexts.  It asked the Special Rapporteur about the steps that States and humanitarian actors could take to ensure the realization of the rights to water and sanitation for persons with disabilities in a displacement context.  Tunisia underlined the need to lay down an international legal framework to ensure the rights of older persons, and to protect them from discrimination.  As for the rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, it welcomed the focus on those rights in the context of conflict.    

UN Women said that women not only lived longer than men but were also less likely to enjoy income security and economic independence in old age because of a lifetime of economic disadvantage.  The contributory pension systems tended to exacerbate gender inequalities.  Turning to water and sanitation, UN Women pointed out that women and girls in humanitarian settings or those with disabilities faced additional burdens due to the lack of accommodating facilities and health education.  Russian Federation noted that the access to water was often used in conflict to impose pressure on civilians, and it asked the Special Rapporteur about steps against violators.  Certain countries intentionally denied whole populations’ access to water, as was the case in the Northern-Crimean canal in Ukraine.  On older persons, it stressed that it was States that needed to safeguard their rights.  Philippines noted that it was culturally unacceptable in the Philippines to allow the parents to live alone or separately from at least one of the children.  The care for older persons was beyond a matter of right.  True to its culture, the Government had put in place various measures to ensure that the elderly lived empowered and fulfilling lives.

Viet Nam said the integration of older persons within the family was part of its traditional values.  However, as a developing country, there were challenges, especially in the context of rapid urbanization, which contributed to the social exclusion of the elderly.  Viet Nam asked how they could make use of the knowledge possessed by older persons and how to enhance their social inclusion.  Trinidad and Tobago stressed that they remained steadfast in their commitment to implementing the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.  In that vein, the country was working to educate and sensitize key stakeholders and the general public on ageing issues and to provide the elderly population with public transport and healthcare services, along with other services and programmes to enhance their quality of life.  Pakistan said that developing countries had different challenges than developed countries and asked that economic and social pressures be taken into account when discussing human rights situations.  Pakistani society had an inbuilt, traditional family system in place for the care of the elderly by the young, which aided their integration in society.  They asked the Special Rapporteur how technological cooperation and capacity building could help realize solutions in the area of water quality and sanitation.

International Committee of the Red Cross had three requests relating to situations of protracted non-international armed conflicts in urban areas.  First, outdoor urban displacement should receive more effective water and sanitation services, better data should be produced with reference to urban profiling and multi-sector needs, and all States and parties to armed conflict should comply fully with their obligations under international humanitarian law.  Djibouti shared the conclusion for a need to adopt a comprehensive approach to global access and asked what measures were recommended for States and humanitarian actors to implement a set of minimum norms for that sphere of interventions?  They continued to state that the protection and inclusion of the elderly needed to be ameliorated, notably taking into account their needs and rights.  Bahamas said that over the next two decades, it was estimated that persons aged over 60 in the Caribbean would comprise some two million people, nearly double that of today.  The State had made many improvements to social security for the elderly as well as increased access to health services, social support, care and housing.

Croatia agreed that forcibly displaced persons in need of humanitarian assistance were rights holders.  The Croatian reception policy took into account the needs of such persons for water and sanitation.  During the migration crisis in 2015 and 2016, the Government had cooperated with national and international organizations and civil society, to provide emergency access to water and sanitation.  Paraguay took note of the Special Rapporteur’s concern about the absence of an international instrument on the rights of older persons, and agreed that exclusion from material and financial resources was one of the manifestations of the exclusion of the elderly.  Fiji noted that the custom in that country, like in many other Pacific island States, placed great value on older persons, adding that they were treated with utmost respect.  In indigenous communities, the elders were decision-makers on matters of custom.  But in the context of urbanization, they faced greater risk of social exclusion.

Spain noted with concern that a large part of displaced persons did not have proper access to water, sanitation and hygiene.  States needed to guarantee the right to safe drinking water and sanitation to forcibly displaced persons, refugees seeking asylum, and migrants.  It called for effective mechanisms of accountability in that respect.

Remarks by the Mandate Holders

ROSA KORNFELD-MATTE, Independent Expert on the rights of older persons, thanked States for their active participation.  Montenegro and Georgia were thanked for their invitation to visit and for taking her recommendations seriously.  Countries such as Argentina, representing a group of countries, European Union as well as the Arab Group and the African Group were thanked for expressing concerns over the situation facing elderly persons.  The best solution for the elderly was for them to be able to remain in their homes.  For vulnerable people who did not have enough resources, the State had to step in and provide adequate healthcare so they would not be a burden for their families.  Iceland was thanked on behalf of Nordic States and the importance of non-contributory schemes was stressed again.  The economic development of older persons was important, but a human rights approach was also very important.  Qatar, Thailand, Maldives and Montenegro were commended for their good practices on healthcare and pensions as well as inclusive policies.  France was commended for its empowerment of the elderly.  Namibia was also creating inclusive policies and Singapore was carrying out important initiatives.  Civil society was also responsible for improving policies towards the elderly.  The Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago and Viet Nam also had good social inclusion policies.  A visit to Paraguay was planned and indigenous persons had to be included in policies towards the elderly.

LEO HELLER, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, was pleased with how Mongolia received the recommendations.  While fully aware of geographical challenges if the progressive realization of human rights was taken on board, substantive progress was expected.  His mission to India was the most complex so far, due to the complexity and variety of the situation in the country.  The Government did not accept all recommendations, so this was a good chance to clarify the Rapporteur’s position.  The methodology used was the same as in other missions.  The sanitation sector included different social and economic aspects, calling for complex solutions.  There were diverging views in India when talking to civil society, the Government and populations affected so the most balanced approach was adopted, fully taking into account the human rights dimension.  No one-size-fits all solution was planned, due to different ethnic and geographical characteristics.  There was room for relevant programmes to be implemented to improve the situation.  He had carried out seven country visits and the next would be to Malaysia.  Follow-up visits would be carried out, to enhance the impact of the missions.  In Tunisia, an inter-agency plan had been developed, coordinating efforts in the humanitarian sector in order to be prepared for an influx of people fleeing from Libya.  In Turkey, similar activities were taking place.  The nexus between the humanitarian and development activities was essential in ensuring the progressive realization of human rights.

Interactive Dialogue

China agreed that Governments should provide support to the elderly and safeguard their access to basic services.  The international community should respond adequately to the needs of the increasing number of older persons.  On water and sanitation, China prioritized those issues and would continue to work in that field.  Ukraine reminded that because of the continued Russian military aggression in the Donbas region, the question of access to clean water had become particularly acute.  The Donetsk filtration station had become a constant shelling target by the Russian military and illegal armed groups.  Kenya said that the elderly had an inherent right to the effective enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.  They were 1.5 million elderly persons, making up 4.8 per cent of the total population.  The Government had implemented the United Nations and the African Union legal frameworks and standards vis-à-vis older persons.

Council of Europe noted that the increasing number of older persons in European countries amplified the need to address the issue of their position in society.  In its recommendations, the Council of Europe focused on reinforcing the autonomy and the protection of the human rights of older persons, and on mainstreaming older persons’ issues in all the areas of its activity.  Australia said that it was committed to addressing the problem of social exclusion of the elderly, and it was developing an action plan to address the abuse of older persons, especially of women.  It was committed to address gender inequality across society.  Bolivia underlined that forcibly displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants were more vulnerable to various threats.  States had an obligation to guarantee the right to safe drinking water without any discrimination.

Morocco said that in order to better respond to the needs of the elderly, the Government had developed several national strategies, including a human development strategy and a healthcare strategy.  Morocco had recently launched two campaigns to regularize the stay of migrants and was fully aligned with goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda, addressing issues relating to drinking water.  El Salvador said that it had ratified the Inter-American Convention in 2010, and supported the open-ended working group on ageing.  Numerous national policies had been implemented to improve the position of the elderly and extend appropriate care.  United Arab Emirates agreed with the challenges of ageing expressed by the Independent Expert.  The United Arab Emirates was undertaking additional efforts to mitigate these challenges.  Programmes were in place protecting elderly persons from social exclusion, and providing them with services, while respecting the dignity of every person.

Benin stated that the exercise of the human rights of the elderly was hampered by the negative attitudes and discrimination that they faced, as enumerated in the report, impeding their rights to work, to healthcare and to social protection.  Benin encouraged the Council to tirelessly pursue its work towards improving the protection of the human rights of older persons.   Venezuela said special measures were needed for awareness raising among youngsters, as social exclusion was aggravated in urban areas.  Only through international solidarity could States progress in achieving the goal of ensuring the access to water for all.  Iran said that a camp in Papua New Guinea which detained many asylum seekers and refugees, including Iranian people, had inadequate facilities and insufficient water, sanitation and hygiene, so Australia was called on to take concrete actions.  Older people were more and more in need of having their needs and rights promoted by multiple agents of human rights protection across the world.

As part of a five-year policy plan, Iraq promoted the rights of the elderly through a plan on aging as well as a plan to reduce poverty among the elderly as a priority for the Government.  With reference to safe drinking water and sanitation, a vast category of individuals had been forced to leave their homes because of Daesh and so Iraq worked to provide drinking water in refugee centres.  Bangladesh said that in order to ensure the social security of older persons, it had adopted the national older persons’ policy in 2013, which established the largest social security programme in Bangladesh, covering some 3.5 million people.  Pertaining to the status of water and sanitation in camps for the forcibly displaced Rohingya population, Bangladesh stated that the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions were based on insufficient information and that the country had gone to great and generous lengths to build latrines to accommodate the migrant influx and had also implemented an initiative to maintain those latrines.  Chile said that the first Global Conference on the Human Rights of Older Persons would be held in Santiago with the goal of raising awareness of the rights of this group of people.  They shared the concerns that the aging population of the world needed a human rights-based focus and they renewed their support and commitment to upholding the rights of this age group.

On the national level, Angola had enshrined the rights of older persons in their Constitution with further economic, social and cultural policies and measures in place to mitigate the sense of exclusion and provide a positive participation in society for the elderly.  The National Development Programme 2018-2022 included assistance programmes for older people as well as a project on occupational therapy in care homes to engage the elderly in handicrafts, horticulture, shoemaking, agriculture and other activities.  Algeria said that the rapidly aging urban population presented a new challenge for States and civil society.  Algeria wondered whether the rights of older persons could be extrapolated from existing human rights norms and sustainable development objectives.  Algeria reminded the international community of their obligation to provide clean drinking water in an independent and non-discriminatory manner.  Nepal said that in 2006, it had enacted the Senior Citizens’ Act to streamline elderly welfare activities, and it was engaged in providing monthly allowances to all senior citizens above 70 years of age.  Programmes directed at senior citizens included the establishment of care centres and daytime service centres to provide opportunities for the elderly to engage in community interaction and development activities.

South Africa stressed that it was important to focus not only on difficulties faced by older persons but also to highlight valuable contributions they made not only to extended families but also to entire communities at large.  The most vulnerable Palestinians were currently denied access to essential services such as water and the Special Rapporteur was urged to reflect on this issue in his work.  Côte d’Ivoire underlined with concern the absence of a universal legal instrument dedicated solely to older persons, which would enhance their full participation in public life.  Côte d’Ivoire always welcomed refugees into host communities, allowing them to enjoy the same economic and socio-cultural services as its own citizens.  United Kingdom considered that States had to promote equality in older age, ensuring the full participation and inclusion of older persons in all aspects of society.  In the context of social protection, the United Kingdom had reformed its pension system to give people greater clarity on what they could expect from the State.

Mexico agreed that although the premise of the Sustainable Development Goals was not to leave anyone behind, there were very few references to older persons or their social exclusion.  How could effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda fill gaps in the current lacking universal protection of the elderly?  Ecuador restated its commitment to the protection of older persons.  It had devoted much attention at developing mechanisms to prevent social exclusion, including adoption of a law on the elderly ensuring their rights.  The right to water was a fundamental right and in 2017 Ecuador had launched a programme on safe water and sanitation for all.  Botswana was becoming increasingly aware of the importance of care and inclusion of the elderly, including the provision of financial support through the pension scheme and access to free health care.  Refugees had to be provided with basic services, as agreed by many who participated in the Global Compact on Refugees.

Portugal said it had put in place a solid social security system based not only on contributory pensions, but also on non-contributory and other cash transfer mechanisms, and on a network of social care personnel.  On safe drinking water and sanitation, Portugal asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on how United Nations relevant agencies and bodies could help Governments to address challenges in a holistic manner.  Malta noted that longevity, combined with marked falls in fertility rates, was leading to the rapid ageing of populations around the world.  It was currently amending its laws to include specific protections for vulnerable people, including the elderly.  Jordan emphasized that receiving States should within their capacities ensure access to water and sanitation, including to displaced persons.  In large influxes, it was not just forcibly displaced persons that endured a lack of adequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene services.  The influx of millions of displaced persons in Jordan had put considerable pressure on water reserves.

Organization of Islamic Cooperation welcomed the growing focus on the elderly.  There was an urgent need to harness the experience of older persons and transform them from a “social burden” to a “social resource.”  On water and sanitation, the Organization said it was working to address water issues by 2025, within the context of the right to an adequate standard of living.  Burkina Faso stated that the issue of the exclusion of older persons was a priority for its Government.  It had taken several measures to prevent their social exclusion through the adoption of a national action plan on economic development, a strategy for older persons, adoption and implementation of a retirement roadmap, and for social rehabilitation of persons accused of witchcraft.  Azerbaijan reminded that as a result of the Armenian occupation of 20 per cent of its territory, more than a million Azerbaijanis had been forced to become refugees and internally displaced persons in their own land.  The provision of a water supply system and sewerage facilities had been one of the essential elements during the first phase of the restoration of some areas liberated from the Armenian occupation.  Sudan affirmed its commitment to caring for older persons and guaranteeing their rights in practice, and said that in cooperation with civil society organizations, it was providing support to the poor and the old throughout the country.

National human rights institutions from Bolivia, Croatia, El Salvador, Germany, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Nigeria, Northern Ireland and the Philippines, members of the Working Group on Ageing of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, in a joint statement, underlined the need for a greater social inclusion of older persons and called for an end to discrimination against them International Longevity Center Global Alliance, Ltd in a joint statement with International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse warned that the rampant ageism and discrimination that older persons faced could no longer be ignored.  Upper-age limit prevented older persons from exercising their rights in employment, access to health, rehabilitation and care services, training, housing, or participation in decision-making processes, and age remained the only basis for discrimination that was still accepted and ensured in legislation and policies.

Swedish Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights noted that many among the forcibly displaced were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and urged States to work to provide full access to water and sanitation for all, including intersex, trans, gender non-binary and gender non-conforming people.  This was pivotal to ensure human rights and dignity for all.  HelpAge International noted that many laws, policies and practices related to older persons were built on ageist assumptions and resulted in discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization, as chronological age was being used as a proxy for capacity or risk, without regard to individual capabilities and potential.  Franciscans International noted with concern the displacement in El Salvador caused by various natural phenomena, and although the country was working on becoming more resilient, lamented the lack of a national policy for risk management.

International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD) said that the sanitation crisis often increased the death toll among the displaced.  As acknowledged by the High Commissioner, due to the ongoing emergency in Iraq and the corrupt leadership, large parts of the Iraqi population were without access to safe water and sanitation.  Global Action on Aging in a joint statement with International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, said that conditions for older persons were deteriorating worldwide in a neo-liberal environment, as extended family care-giving diminished, affordable housing disappeared, and public health care suffered budget erosion.  The report failed to mention some vital issues, including the perils of global racism and the imminent climate catastrophe.  Health and Environment Program (HEP) said that the open-ended working group had to be strengthened as the only way to achieve the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals of leaving no one behind.  Drinking water was a priority in all countries and internally displaced persons could not seek international protection but had to be guaranteed access to water.

International Movement against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) in a joint statement with Anti-Slavery International and Minority Rights Group International noted the continuing discrimination against Dalits in the enjoyment of their human rights to water and sanitation.  The Special Rapporteur’s concerns were echoed that Dalits were vulnerable to violence and discrimination and India was urged to ensure safe access to water.  Alsalam Foundation drew the Council’s attention to Hassan Mushaima, a seventy-year-old arbitrarily detained political opposition leader serving a life sentence in the notorious Jau Prison where access to medical care was restricted.  The issue of water cuts had to be raised with Bahraini authorities.

Association of World Citizens recalled that the lack of water was not only for the poor; many were forcibly displaced because of the lack of safe drinking water.  For example, poor governance and mismanagement of water in Iran had already caused the migration of more than 400,000 people from Khuzestan, a province in southern Iran. Association pour l’Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi appreciated the Special Rapporteur’s recognition that caste in India was used to exclude certain persons from access to safe drinking water.  It requested the Indian Government to stop pretending the consequences of the caste system did not exist, and to implement the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur.  World Barua Organization criticized India initiating large-scale development projects without addressing the most pressing problems in the country, such as the nexus between caste discrimination and access to safe drinking water.  It invited the Government to effectively ensure access to safe and clean drinking water.  Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee pointed out that the lack of access to safe drinking water was a longstanding problem in India.  Sadly, the Government was prone to hiding that problem and rejecting the claims of the Special Rapporteur.  Even though the Constitution rejected any form of discrimination, the Government neglected the problem of caste discrimination.

Iuventum e.V. noted that the chemical and biological requirement of safe drinking water was identical for all humans, which meant that the analysis of the property of the drinking water should serve as a universal measurement of human rights conditions around the world.  Water was said to be the oil of the twenty-first century, and it was an important source of peace and stability of society. Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII reminded that the social exclusion of older persons involved the lack or the denial of resources, rights, goods and services, and the inability to participate in social relations and activities.  The organization advocated for Governments to promote policies that recognized older persons as an integral and necessary part of families and societies, in order to fulfil the promise of leaving no one behind.

Concluding Remarks

ROSA KORNFELD-MATTE, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, speaking about good practices in realizing the human rights of older persons, noted a very practical list of measures prepared by the Council of Europe, which included, inter alia, those focusing on autonomy.  Notwithstanding good practice examples in many countries, a lot remained to be done to protect the dignity and independence of older persons, including through working on non-contributory pensions, she said, and then singled out the category of older persons with disabilities - particularly with intellectual disability - as a particularly vulnerable group which needed specialized assistance.  Commending the United Arab Emirates for their policies on the elderly, especially in terms of enabling the passage of knowledge from older to younger persons, the Independent Expert remarked that there were positive examples in many other countries, such as in Iraq or Chile, which for example had enshrined in the law the obligation to consult with the elderly.  With regard to a legal instrument for the rights of older persons, Ms. Kornfeld-Matte underlined that all countries should start a conversation on what would be most appropriate for older persons in all countries, and what should be the minimum rights to be enjoyed by older persons.

LEO HELLER, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, in response to questions raised about accountability and accountability mechanisms, said that he was presenting such a report to the General Assembly later this year, adding that accountability must be included in humanitarian assistance, and in particular be clearly defined in the humanitarian-development nexus.  The situation in Calais in northern France was of a grave concern, noted the Special Rapporteur and expressed full confidence that it would be appropriately addressed by the French Government.  As for the difference between displaced people in camps and outside of camp boundaries, Mr. Heller noted that the displaced who lived in urban slums were usually less visible, thus particular attention was needed in situations of urban displacement.  The intentional destruction of water supply infrastructure in situations of armed conflict was a clear human rights violation and a violation of international law.  With regard to the situation of Rohingya in camps in Bangladesh, the Special Rapporteur, citing the article from the July 2018 issue of the Lancet Journal, raised concern about the way in which international organizations had chosen to manage the cholera outbreak, as they favoured vaccines over improving water and sanitation infrastructure and facilities, which was critical in preventing future outbreaks.

Right of Reply

Russian Federation, speaking in a right of reply in response to Ukraine, stated that the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol were part of the territory of the Russian Federation on the basis of the free and sovereign expression of the will of their populations.  Crimea would soon be fully integrated into the Russian social and economic space.  The Russian Federation was not a party to the conflict in the south east of Ukraine, and the statement made by the Ukrainian delegation was nothing else but an attempt to hide the aggression of Kiev against its own population.  The Ukrainian armed forces were the main perpetrators of the attacks on the water supply infrastructure in the Donbass region.
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For use of the information media; not an official record
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