UN Human Rights Council appoints Independent Expert on older people's rights


By Bridget Sleap

The UN Human Rights Council has appointed Rosa Kornfeld-Matte as the new Independent Expert on the full enjoyment of the human rights of all older persons.

This appointment is ground-breaking. It is the first international UN mechanism dedicated to the human rights of older people and will deepen our understanding of the human rights challenges that people face in old age and how these rights can be better protected. Nziku, from Tanzania The new Independent Expert will go on fact-finding visits and make recommendations on how States can better promote and protect older people’s rights. (c) Jeff Williams/HelpAge International

Ms Kornfeld-Matte has served as the National Director of the Chilean National Service of Ageing and has a long career as an academic, working for 22 years at the Pontificia Unversidad Catolica de Chile where she founded the programme on older people.

Toby Porter, HelpAge International’s Chief Executive Officer said: “We are delighted that Ms Kornfeld-Matte has been appointed as the Independent Expert. She brings a unique combination of in depth expertise and professional experience in gerontology, social policy and human rights to the mandate of Independent Expert.

"HelpAge is deeply committed to this new position and we look forward to working closely with Ms Kornfeld-Matte throughout her term.”

What is an Independent Expert?

An Independent Expert is an individual who is independent of government, serves in their individual capacity and is an expert in human rights in a thematic or geographic area.

He/she is appointed by and reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

What will the new Independent Expert on older people’s rights do?

The new Independent Expert on the full enjoyment of the human rights of all older persons was established by the Human Rights Council in September 2013 by a resolution that was subsequently adopted by the General Assembly. 

This Independent Expert has been appointed for an initial three year term and has been specifically tasked with:

  • Assessing how existing international human rights instruments have been implemented in relation to older people’s rights, identifying both good practice and implementation gaps.
  • Assessing the human rights implications of how the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) has been implemented. 

As part of the Independent Expert’s on-going duties, Ms Kornfeld-Matte will also:

  • Report to the Human Rights Council on an annual basis, with its first report in September 2014.
  • Go on fact-finding visits and make recommendations on how States can better promote and protect older people’s rights.
  • Produce thematic reports on specific human rights issues to further understanding of the human rights challenges older people face and serve as a guide on human rights norms and standards.
  • Communicate with Member States on either individual cases or structural issues of concern in relation to enjoyment of the rights of older people.
  • Raise awareness of the challenges older people face in realisation of their rights.
  • Attend the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing annual sessions in New York.

How does this link to the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing?

While the work of the Independent Expert will complement and contribute to that of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing, it cannot replace it.

The Open-ended Working Group is an inter-governmental body that is tasked through the UN General Assembly with identifying the main elements of a new legal instrument dedicated to the rights of older people.

This discussion among Member States is critical to build consensus around the need for, and what should be in, such an instrument. This process among Member States is essential to deliver a strong instrument, such as a convention on the rights of older people, and the political will to implement it once adopted and ratified.

At HelpAge, we believe that a convention would be the most effective instrument to protect older people's rights under international law.

Among other things, it would also provide a definitive, universal position that age discrimination and ageism are morally and legally unacceptable and provide clarity on governments' human rights obligations towards older people.

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