Archbishop Desmond Tutu supports call for a UN convention on the rights of older people


By Sarah Gillam

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has joined older activists calling for a UN convention on the rights of older people as part of HelpAge International’s Age Demands Action campaign.

ADA campaigners marching for their rights and voice to be heard in Peru. ADA campaigners marching for their rights and voice to be heard in Peru. (c) HelpAge International

“A UN convention on the rights of older people is essential to ensure they can realise their rights in our increasingly ageing societies,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has written an open letter to world leaders urging them to support the convention.

“Older activists across the world are demanding their voices be heard,” he said.

The time to act is now

“This week's meeting at the UN is a critical moment to change things and enable everyone – young and old – to lead dignified lives as equal members of society.

“This is not a minority issue. We are all growing older. Are we prepared to lose our rights along the way? If not, the time to act is now.”

Nearly 300,000 older people from over 100 countries across all regions signed the petition calling for a UN convention, some with a thumbprint when they could not write.

Kenneth Hemley, 73, an Age Demands Action campaigner from Jamaica, said a UN convention on the rights of older people was needed because everyone should be protected under the law.

“We are not begging, we are demanding that our rights be respected. So world leaders, do something for the older people of your nation!”

Kenneth is at the United Nations in New York this week to hand over the Age Demands Action petition to Mateo Estrémé, the chair of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing.

The call for a new convention

Through the Age Demands Action for Rights campaign, older activists will be calling on their governments to attend the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing when it meets in New York from 30 July to 1 August.

They will argue older people have the right to protection from all forms of discrimination, violence and abuse. However, the human rights obligations on governments to protect people from elder abuse are not explicitly articulated in existing international human rights law.

A patchwork of national legislation, policies, strategies and plans exist but differ from country to country, undermining the universality of human rights and every woman’s and man’s right to freedom from violence and abuse throughout their lives.

For this reason, the adoption of such universal standards within a new UN convention would provide every government with guidance on how to improve their domestic legislation and practice, including around elder abuse, so that it is in line with international human rights standards.

“The vast majority of nearly 300,000 signatures were signed on paper, showing how much older people really want a convention,” said Toby Porter, HelpAge's Chief Executive.

“In Bangladesh alone, about 40,000 people signed the petition in the space of two weeks. It’s been an incredible effort by older people themselves and is a clear signal to heads of government.”

“We now owe it to the campaigners to hand over the signatures they have tirelessly collected to the UN Open-ended Working Group on Ageing.”

Kenneth on why we need a convention

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Comments submitted for this page

  • Geoff Wallis (04 August 2014)

    I live in Australia. There is a desperate need for the elderly to be recognised as a part of the community, local and national.

  • noreen waters (30 July 2014)

    great work Kenneth telling it how it is

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