Header image for news printout

Keynote speech by Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons at the International Conference on Ageing Ageing: Rights for Empowerment

Brdo pri Kranju, 11 April 2016

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel extremely honoured to address this major event in my capacity as the first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons. At the outset, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Government of Slovenia for organising this International Conference on Ageing, the first of its kind. The theme of the Conference, Rights for Empowerment, is particularly topical as we strive to mainstream a rights-based approach to ageing and ensure that older persons everywhere can fully enjoy their human rights.

Two and half years ago, the adoption of resolution 24/20 by the Human Rights Council, which created this mandate, was a global recognition of the challenges related to the enjoyment of all human rights that older persons face and of the need for in-depth analysis and action to address protection gaps.

Building societies in which everyone can enjoy the full spectrum of human rights during the entire cycle of his or her life requires closer cooperation at all levels. Efforts and initiatives exist, which are laudable, but they are often fragmented and the need exists for a more coordinated approach at the regional, domestic and local level. This coordination could be fostered by establishing a common denominator and minimum benchmark: the human rights framework.

This Conference provides an opportunity to identify commonalities across and among regions and to explore ways of enhancing such cooperation among Governments. It is a perfect illustration of cross-regional and multi-stakeholder cooperation. It acknowledges the importance of the challenges related to ageing for present and future generations. I was particularly pleased to note that the Conference places the human rights-based approach as a means to empower older persons at the centre of the debate and I very much look forward to the discussions. This will be an important contribution towards shifting the focus from stocktaking to concrete actions. Addressing the gaps in the international framework and improving implementation at the global level is the way forward.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to share with you the achievements of my mandate during its first year and a half, as well as to highlight some of the challenges we need to overcome in the coming months and years.

According to resolution 24/20 of the Human Rights Council, the ‘raison d’être’ of this mandate is to contribute to strengthening the promotion and protection of the human rights of older persons.

To fulfil this mandate, I have adopted a comprehensive approach to ageing. If we want to understand the complexity and heterogeneity of ageing, and to identify the needs of older persons, an integrated approach is essential as it incorporates the whole spectrum of human rights and considers legal, regulatory and policy frameworks as well as promising practices that could be replicated in other places.

The mandate’s scope encompasses not only an assessment of the implementation of existing international instruments in relation to older persons - including the identification of best practices and gaps worldwide - but also action towards raising awareness of the challenges faced by older persons in the enjoyment of their rights. It also comprises an assessment of the human rights implications of the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA), one of the main political documents dedicated to older persons. The latter is an important aspect as it finally adds the hitherto missing human rights dimension to the MIPAA discussion.

From a methodological point of view, the Human Rights Council requested that I take into account the views of all stakeholders. This includes States, international and regional mechanisms, national human rights institutions, civil society organisations and academic institutions, as well as older persons themselves. I am also requested to mainstream a gender and disability perspective into my work and to pay special attention to certain groups such as people of African descent, individuals belonging to indigenous peoples, national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, people living on the street, refugees and those living in rural and urban areas.

In discharging my mandate, I have been working in cooperation with States and other human rights mechanisms in order to foster the implementation of measures that contribute to the promotion and protection of the human rights of every older person. I also participated in the meetings of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing in New York.
During my first tenure, I have identified a number of issues to be addressed as a matter of priority. My first thematic report, presented to the Human Rights Council last year, focused on autonomy and care. Given the intensity of ageing in many societies, the report called for a paradigm shift towards the inclusion of older persons in society at all levels, encompassing age-friendly communities and environments, to ensure that older persons are enabled to lead autonomous lives.

Other issues also require our attention. These include, but are not limited to, to the issue of abuse and violence against older persons - where particular attention needs to be paid to older women, as well as ageism and discrimination. Another challenge, which has received less attention in the international arena, but which is becoming more and more pressing, is the disproportionate impact of climate change on older persons and the need to include this group in any disaster risk reduction and resilience policy. There is also the New Urban Agenda and the importance of taking into account the needs of older persons in urban planning and settings. And, finally, there is a critical need to promote a human rights-based approach to the care of older persons in general, and those with dementia and in need of palliative care, in particular.

Throughout my tenure, I have relied on the fundamental principles of cooperation and dialogue, and have pursued this approach during my various encounters with States and other actors at seminars and conferences, as well as during my country visits. Such visits provide invaluable first-hand information and are a unique opportunity to assess the situation of older persons on the ground. My conclusions and recommendations from each visit were presented in my reports to the Human Rights Council.

I have also been requested by the Human Rights Council to present a comprehensive report at the end of my first tenure in September 2016. This report, which I am currently finalizing, will look at all aspects of the mandate. It will contain a collection of best practices and gaps in the implementation of existing legislation within the various thematic areas as well as an assessment of the human rights impact of the implementation of MIPAA. This is a colossal task, and I need to express my sincere gratitude to all actors for their support and cooperation. Initiatives such as this Conference are essential in this endeavour.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to make some preliminary observations as we embark on our discussions:
There is a positive trend towards mainstreaming age into frameworks related to care. This is illustrated by practices regarding the adoption of a legal or policy framework that addresses the specific needs of older persons, including the provision of geriatric/gerontological services, alternative options to institutionalised care, the development of minimum care standards and the establishment of monitoring mechanisms to assess care services.

More needs to be done, however, in relation to the situation of informal caregivers, preventive and palliative care, autonomy, empowerment, safeguards to free and informed consent for medical treatment, decision-making and legal capacity, participation in care settings and the particular challenges faced by those with dementia and other chronic and degenerative diseases. By focusing merely on the aspect of care, older persons, who are active and in good health, do not receive adequate attention.

Another positive trend, which reflects the demographic changes occurring worldwide, is the emergence of policies that encourage older persons, as long as they are willing or able to, to work beyond the statutory retirement age. This includes reforms of pension systems, such as non-contributory and contributory social security schemes, but also the establishment of mechanisms to promote the political participation of older persons in their communities. 

In addition, there are increasing awareness-raising efforts on the situation of older persons, in particular regarding age discrimination and elder abuse. Many States have adopted legal and policy frameworks to tackle these issues. These are important steps forward as the lack of visibility has long been considered as one of the main obstacles to the full and effective enjoyment of human rights by older persons.

In spite of these positive developments, let me emphasize that for most of it, policies and practices are still not formulated on the basis of a comprehensive human rights-based approach. Frameworks, where they exist, are often fragmented and continue to focus on some specific issues, such as care and social protection, without considering all rights of older persons.

When a practice does refer to a specific right, it is not clear whether its implementation has followed a human rights-based approach. In this context, the recent legally binding instrument-the Inter-American convention on protecting the rights of older persons-, the new European Union action on human rights and democracy and the protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the rights of older persons in Africa are promising developments which we need to follow closely in the years to come.

Excellencies,

The first year and a half in the exercise of my mandate has strengthened my conviction that without genuine cooperation it is impossible to effectively address the various facets of ageing and to identify practices, at various levels of government, which could be replicated in other regions of the world. While much has been achieved in this regard, enhanced cooperation and synergies are required to achieve our common goal to ensure that all persons age with dignity and security.

By creating this mandate, the Human Rights Council made an important step towards addressing the existing protection gap. This was also the beginning of a Geneva process that I hope will be further deepened over the years to come.

In the course of the very short period of its existence, this special procedure mechanism proved that it can make a difference to the lives of older persons and the generations that will follow. It has also validated the need for such a mechanism entrusted to analyse, assess and monitor the implementation of existing laws and policies related to ageing in order to ensure the continued visibility of the rights of older persons and of the progress of incorporating a human rights-based approach into existing and future frameworks.

Every effort must be made to empower older persons through the promotion and protection of their rights. It is my greatest desire to continue this endeavour, to expand and create new forms of co-operation, to strengthen existing channels of dialogue and explore new ones, and to continue promoting coordination to ensure the invaluable contribution of the many stakeholders in all regions.

I would like to close, ladies and gentlemen, with the wise words of Pythagoras of Samos: ‘Una bella ancianidad es, ordinariamente, la recompensa de una bella vida’- ‘A beautiful old age is, ordinarily, the reward of a beautiful life’.

I hope sincerely that those words will inspire your work not simply over the next few days but in the years to come.

I wish you well in your deliberations.

Thank you.