Human Rights Day: Building Support for Older People's Rights

By Sarah Marzouk

This Human Rights Day, we are at a critical turning point regarding older people’s rights. Politics has not kept up with the realities of demographic ageing and it is time to rethink legislation, policies and the societal attitudes to aging.

This was the message from a conference on older people’s rights, which was jointly hosted by HelpAge International, HelpAge Deutschland and Age Platform Europe, in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Germany last week.

The aim of the event was to build political support for legally binding international human rights standards.

Support for older people's rights from Navi Pillay


Addressing the event, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, backed calls for an international convention to protect the rights of older people around the world.

She said: "The standards related to the human rights of older persons needed to be developed within a comprehensive framework that recognised what she called the indivisible, interdependent and interrelated nature of rights.

"A dedicated protection regime at the international level would provide coherence to what she described as an otherwise fragmented, uneven and incomplete landscape of legal norms."

Read her full speech here.

Aging must be seen as an opportunity

Also speaking at the conference, Henning Scherf, the Head of the Expert Commission of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency to reduce age-discrimination, called for a shift in gear that would allow people to see aging as an opportunity and not just a time of being poor.

Mr Sherf said the current legislation was not appropriate and that wage agreements and neighbourhoods had not been adapted for aging populations.

The conference established three clear outcomes:

  • a deeper understanding of the gaps in human rights protection in Europe and the nature of the rights violations and discrimination that people experience in old age,
  • an increased number of European civil society groups and other stakeholders committed to strengthening the protection of older people's rights under international human rights law,
  • specific short and long term actions to increase European political support for new legal human rights instruments dedicated to older people's rights.

In support of these outcomes, Vladimir Spidla, former European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities and former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, who also attended the event said: “I am fully in favour of an extension to the anti-age discrimination directive in Europe which does not go beyond the labour market…There are other types of age discrimination, for example in access to loans in the financial sector.”

Plan to strengthen older people's rights

A number of key areas were identified which aim to build more political support in Europe for strengthening the protection of older people’s rights:

  • recognising where there may be support within European governments and building relationships with those in relevant ministries in European capitals,
  • increased civil society pressure on European governments; targeting European governments individually and collectively through regional European processes,
  • long term work to tackle pervasive negative social attitudes and make ageism and discrimination in old age unacceptable.

Summing up the mood of the conference, Craig Mokhiber, Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said of older people: “There is a growing class in society reaching out for their rights and dignity. No society can develop and prosper when a whole sector is locked out of fully participating in society.”

Tags for this page