Independent Expert on older people's rights addresses Human Rights Council


By Sarah Marzouk

Ms Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, the Independent Expert on the full enjoyment of all human rights of older persons, presented her first annual report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva this week. An older woman in Peru Violence against older women was one the issues raised in the Independent Expert's first address to the Human Rights Council. (c) Antonio Olmos/HelpAge International

Speaking on the opening day of the 27th session of the Human Rights Council, she acknowledged that the creation of a new independent expert on older people's rights reflected the will of UN Member States to respond to the concerns of older people.

Ensuring older people are heard

Ms Kornfeld-Matte outlined her work for the next two years and emphasised that it will be underpinned by three key principles:

  • ensuring the voices of older people are heard
  • the constant defense of older people's dignity
  • the cooperation of governments, civil society and other stakeholders.

38 Member States made statements in response to the Independent Expert's report, as did three regional groupings of States. There was overwhelming support for the new position and a commitment to working collaboratively with the Independent Expert.

Many showed interest in how the Independent Expert will examine certain rights for example, the rights to access to justice, long term care, and freedom from multiple and intersecting discrimination.

Obstacles to protecting older people's rights

Member States were also keen to know what the Independent Expert thought the major obstacles were to the protecting older people's rights in practice and how to overcome these.

Some, such as Namibia, Portugal, the United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka, who have not spoken yet at the UN Open-ended Working Group on Ageing in New York, talked about how they were trying to address issues of ageing and the rights of older people at the national level.

The International Co-coordinating Committee of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) urged Ms Kornfeld-Matte to consult with NHRIs throughout her mandate and one, the National Human Rights Council of Morocco spoke about how care facilities fail to comply with human rights standards.

Broad range of rights must be addressed

HelpAge, speaking on behalf of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People, encouraged the Independent Expert to broaden the range of rights that she has prioritised for consideration to include, for example, the right to a private life and states' obligations around third party provision of services.

We also encouraged an investigation of where the human rights obligations of states and the role of the family are currently blurred.

The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA), the ILC-Global Alliance, the Quaker United Nations Office and the International Drug Policy Consortium encouraged her to address violence and abuse, particularly against and of older women and widows, the rights of older prisoners and the right to palliative care.

Bridget Sleap, HelpAge's Senior Policy Adviser on Rights said: "While it is evident that there is still a long way to go in terms of fully understanding how human rights apply in older age and to older people, that there is now an Independent Expert dedicated to examining this and a discussion on older people's rights on the Human Rights Council's annual agenda is a major, if long overdue, step in the right direction."

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