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Statements Special Procedures

Make UDHR promises a reality for older persons: UN expert

International day of older persons - 1 October 2023

29 September 2023

GENEVA (29 September 2023) – States must pledge to uphold the human rights of older persons as enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), UN independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Claudia Mahler said today. Ahead of the International day of older persons, she issued the following statement:

“Seventy-five years ago, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights reflects an agreement that “all human beings are all born free and equal in dignity and rights” in its first article. Ground-breaking, inspiring and progressive at the time, it remains a powerful document consecrating freedom and equality for every individual, as the years pass.

Much remains to be done to ensure that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights lives up to the promises made by the international community to all human beings, including older persons when it was adopted in 1948. The ongoing demographic transformation towards an ageing population is already happening and it will continue to have profound effects on societies, and on the human rights of everyone.

The human rights of older persons are, naturally, included within the fundamental principles laid out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Despite its existence, older persons remain largely invisible in international human rights law due to the lack of recognition of ageism and of an explicit prohibition of age-based discrimination. Among United Nations treaties, only two of the core human rights treaties contain explicit references to age.

Seventy-five years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration, older persons remain, too often, subjected to discrimination, neglect, exclusion and other human rights violations. Despite the devasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on this age group, insufficient attention continues to be paid to the obstacles to their full enjoyment of human rights. National protection standards are often weak or absent regarding age-based discrimination; social protection; adequate standards of living; support for autonomy; participation in decision making; and freedom from violence, abuse and neglect.

I call on Member States, the United Nations, National Human Rights Institutions, civil society and all relevant stakeholders to make the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a reality for all older persons. For all their contributions throughout their early years, for the knowledge and expertise they can pass on to younger generations, for all the life they have yet to live, older persons must be at the core of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

I encourage Member States to uphold and promote the universality and indivisibility of human rights in pledging for a future of human rights for all older persons, keeping in mind that the youth of today are the older persons of tomorrow.”

Ms. Claudia Mahler (Austria) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons in May 2020. She has been working for the German Institute for Human Rights as a senior researcher in the field of economic, social and cultural rights since 2010. She was also a visiting professor at the Alice Salomon Hochschule in 2020-2021. From 2001 to 2009, Ms. Mahler conducted research at the Human Rights Centre of the University of Potsdam where her main fields were in human rights education, minority rights and the law of asylum. In 2000, she received her doctoral degree and was appointed as Vice President of the Human Rights Commission for Tyrol and Vorarlberg. Her mandate covers all countries and has most recently been renewed by Human Rights Council resolution 51/4.

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.

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