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UN human rights expert deplores ageist attacks sparked by Brexit

GENEVA (5 July 2016) – The United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, today deplored the wave of ageist attacks witnessed in the wake of the United Kingdom’s referendum to leave the European Union, including calls for age ceilings for the exercise of the right to vote.

“We have seen a number of European national newspapers and social media outlets stigmatising older persons as the scapegoats for Brexit and calling for restrictions on ‘grey’ votes”, she said while explaining that the decision to leave the EU reportedly received strong support from voters over the age of 65. “One magazine even suggested that the pensioners’ right to vote should be taken away, just as their driver’s licenses are, after they reach certain age.”   

“The impact of ageism should not be underestimated”, the expert warned. “Ageism is the root of the marginalization, social exclusion and isolation of older persons. It is also intimately linked to violence and abuse against them in public and private spheres as scapegoating and stereotyping nourish subconscious motives.”

Ms. Kornfeld-Matte underlined that the discrimination and negative attitudes against of individuals as they grow older, as well as their stigmatisation, is widespread. Age-based discrimination may also be incorporated in laws and policies, for example in relation to job recruitment or legal capacity to exercise their rights.

“General exclusions of the exercise of certain rights based on age are unacceptable under international human rights law,” the Independent Expert said. “Restrictions to human rights can only be justified if they are objective and proportionate.”

“Old age should not be misused to challenge a person’s political competence. The full respect of the equal right of all individuals in public life and decision-making is fundamental to a democratic society,” she stated.

In this context, the Independent Expert also pointed out that there is no internationally recognized definition of ‘older person’ and that older people make up the most heterogeneous of all age groups.

“As societies worldwide are ageing, there is a need to invest more to build intergenerational solidarity and foster societies’ understanding of the valuable contribution of older persons,” Ms. Kornfeld-Matte concluded.

Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte (Chile) was appointed by Human Rights Council as the first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons in May 2014. Ms. Kornfeld-Matte served as the National Director of the Chilean National Service of Ageing where she designed and implemented the National Policy of Ageing. She has a long career as an academic and is the founder of the programme for older persons at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. Learn more, visit:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/OlderPersons/IE/Pages/IEOlderPersons.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Human rights of older persons:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/OlderPersons/Pages/OlderPersonsIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Mr. Khaled Hassine (+41 22 917 93 67, khassine@ohchr.org) or write to olderpersons@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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