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


Monday 28 July - for immediate release

Newshook: UN Open Ended Working Group on Ageing meeting from 30 July - 1 August at the UN in New York.

Materials available:
Photo from 1pm local time - (New York) Monday 28 July

Contact details

In New York: Jemma Stovell, Campaigns assistant, mobile: +1 (646) 420 6429
In London: Sarah Gillam, Media Relations Manager + 44 207 148 7623 and mobile + 44 7713 567624

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

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.

"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. "This weeks' 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 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!"

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 - 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, Chief Executive of HelpAge International, the organisation behind the drive.

"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."


Notes to Editors:

Photo opportunity: Petition handover

Kenneth Hemley, an Age Demands Action leader from Jamaica, Toby Porter, Chief Executive of HelpAge International, and Dr Alex Kalache, Global Ambassador for HelpAge International and president of the International Longevity Centre in Brazil, will present the petition to Mr Mateo Estrémé, chair of the Open Ended Working Group on Ageing on Monday 28 July at 9.15am in New York. The petition is from the 278,638 citizens from 100+ countries across all regions calling for a UN convention on the rights of older people.

Photo of the handover will be available on this link from 12 noon Monday 28 July.

Age Demands Action Campaign

Older people are at the heart of the Age Demands Action campaign, challenging age discrimination and fighting for the rights of older people. Age Demands Action was launched in 2007 in 27 countries and now campaigns in 62 countries.

The main goal of Age Demands Action is for the adoption of a UN convention on the rights of older people providing clarity about government responsibilities to protect older people's rights as well as a system to hold them to account.

The convention would provide a definitive, universal position that age discrimination is morally and legally unacceptable. A convention would also be a powerful advocacy tool and encourage a shift away from the perception of older people as recipients of welfare to rights holders with responsibilities.

Sign the ADA petition for a new UN convention on the rights of older people here:


Kenneth Hemley: Age Demands Action leader, from Jamaica
Toby Porter: Chief Executive, HelpAge International
Dr Alex Kalache: Global Ambassador of HelpAge International and President of the International Longevity Centre, Brazil

Kenneth Hemley, 73, an Age Demands Action leader from Jamaica.

Born in 1940, Kenneth Hemley spent much of his working life as a technician in Jamaica's textile industry after beginning his career in construction. Today he is President of the Rivoli Senior Citizens Club in St Catherine's and an ADA leader.

Having witnessed first hand the discrimination faced by older people, Kenneth decided "enough is enough" and got involved with ADA in 2009 to bring about change. He has since been instrumental in getting the Jamaican government to widen access to pensions - mobilising campaigners to call for this step forward.

On 26 September 2011, Kenneth met Faith Innerarity, Director General of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. Having met Kenneth and other campaigners, the Director General agreed to review the government's Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education, which is a conditional cash transfer scheme. The review will look at the possibilities for greater inclusion of older people in the scheme.
The power of Kenneth's campaigning has been recognised by several UN agencies, who have invited him to speak at a number of UN forums in New York. After receiving an invitation from the NGO Committee on Ageing at the UN, Kenneth was a panel member at an International Day of Older Person's event at the Salvation Army Auditorium in Manhattan on 6 October 2011.

Video of Kenneth

Toby Porter, Chief Executive Officer, HelpAge International

Toby Porter is the Chief Executive of Help Age International, an international organisation which facilitates older people to claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, such that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. Toby has dedicated his career to humanitarian and development assistance.

Toby graduated from Oxford University in Modern Languages and later specialised in the study of Forced Migration, beginning his career as an emergency relief specialist working first with Merlin and then Oxfam, in Eastern Europe, in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, South Sudan, and in Central and South America. Since then, Toby has worked for USAID, for Save the Children UK as Director of Emergencies and as Director of Programme Partnerships, and for Save the Children India as Director of Programmes.

In October 2013, Toby became Chief Executive of HelpAge International. In his time to date, Toby has visited HelpAge International's work in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, the Philippines, Haiti and Myanmar, and spoken at the UN in New York. Toby's time with HelpAge has coincided with relief and recovery efforts in the Philippines, as the population recovers from the effects of Typhoon Haiyan. This disaster highlighted again the vulnerability of older people in emergencies, but also the massive contribution they make to recovery efforts within families and communities.

In January 2014, Toby represented HelpAge International at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos; in April, he was a panellist at the Global Philanthropy Forum in San Francisco and, in June, a panellist at the International Federation of Ageing's conference in Hyderabad. In June, Toby accepted an invitation to join the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Ageing for 2014-16. The focus of the Global Agenda Council on Ageing in the upcoming term will be: Capitalize on the economic opportunities presented by an ageing population by encouraging business and governments to adopt age-friendly practices.

Dr Alexandre Kalache

In 2012 Alexandre Kalache took up the Presidency of the newly-created International Longevity Centre-Brazil in his home city of Rio de Janeiro. ILC-Brazil is an autonomous think tank which is part of an international consortium of fourteen such centres.

Concurrently, Dr Kalache serves as Global Ambassador of HelpAge International, Senior Advisor at the New York Academy of Medicine and sits on a multitude of boards ranging from the World Economic Forum to the Gulbenkian Foundation. He acts as worldwide adviser on ageing issues to national, state and municipal governments, civil society organisations and the private sector.

Following his medical training in Brazil and then his MSc and PhD in the United Kingdom, Kalache held research and teaching positions at both the Universities of Oxford and London for almost twenty years. During this time he founded the Epidemiology of Ageing Unit at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (1983) and created the first European Masters degree in Health Promotion (1991).

From 1995-2008 he directed the World Health Organisation's global Ageing and Life Course Programme from the Geneva headquarters. During his thirteen years at WHO he launched the Active Ageing Policy Framework and the global movement on Age-Friendly Cities among many other enduring initiatives.

Open-ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWGA)

The fifth session of the UN Open-ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWGA) takes place in New York between 30 July - 1 August. The OEWG provides a unique opportunity for UN Member States to look at how existing human rights mechanisms protect older people's rights and, if found to be inadequate, explore creating new mechanisms.

This year's session will focus on human rights and the care of older persons, violence and abuse against older persons (older women, financial abuse), planning for end of life care: Legal and financial issues and how to strengthen the rights of older persons through the implementation of the Madrid Plan (MIPPA)

About HelpAge International

HelpAge International helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. Our work is strengthened through our global network of like-minded organisations - the only one of its kind in the world.

For further information please contact Sarah Gillam at HelpAge International's office in London: Email Tel: +44 (0) 20 7148 7623 Mobile + 44 77713 567624

Tags for this page