In the past 12 months, discussions about the possibility of a new Convention on the Rights of Older People have been gaining increasing momentum within the United Nations. At the second session of the UN Open-ended Working Group on Ageing in New York this month, the South American states, as a group, endorsed proposals for a new binding human rights instrument to protect the rights of older persons and expressed support for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur to strengthen the protection of the rights of older people.

However, the proposal to draft a new Convention at this juncture was opposed by the European Union on behalf of its 27 member states. The EU, and other states which were opposed to the drafting of a Convention at this stage, argued that no normative gap exists in the current international human rights framework regarding older people, and that any lack of protection is due to the failure to implement existing human rights standards. Other states which took a similar position to the EU include the US, New Zealand, Canada, China, Switzerland and Norway.

Some states which did not accept the need for a new Convention did however concede that some interim measures might be taken. These included placing further emphasis on governance, policy and planning, especially at regional level, for example, through the upcoming review of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing. Other suggestions included commissioning particular studies on the rights of older persons which could provide data analysis (including analysis of the social and fiscal costs of failing to address the rights of older persons), indicators for measuring older persons’ enjoyment of human rights and to highlight work being done by national human rights monitoring mechanisms to strengthen and protect the rights of older persons.

Many of these arguments echo the positions States Parties took in the early days of the Ad-Hoc Committee on the issue of drafting a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Although civil society delegations and the Latin American states argue strongly that a new Convention is the best means of protecting the human rights of older persons in a comprehensive and effective manner – there are some concerns which arise from the proposal of a new binding instrument. One, which has been raised by a number of States, including the European Union, is the increased pressure this will place on an already over-stretched treaty monitoring system.

Another, which has been raised by some members of the disability community, is the danger inherent in re-arguing so many of the contentious points addressed in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and having the current position in the CRPD potentially undermined in a new Convention. The contentious rights in question include the right of everyone to enjoy legal capacity and to access the supports necessary to enable them to exercise legal capacity (Article 12), the right to live in the community and to choose where and with whom to live and to appropriate supports to facilitate community living (Article 19).

On the issue of appointing a Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Older Persons, some states, while not accepting the need to commence work on a new Convention, did accept that the appointment of a Special Rapporteur, or Independent Expert, might be necessary in order to strengthen the protection of the rights of older persons. However, many of these states saw the appointment of such an individual as a replacement for a Convention – whereas, the states in favour of a Convention emphasised that a Special Rapporteur was only acceptable where her appointment did not preclude moving towards a Convention. There was no clear consensus on which current UN instrument a Special Rapporteur could be aligned to – although proposals were made that this mandate-holder should have a particular human rights focus and be located within the Human Rights Council. Many States were also anxious to await the outcome of the 10 year review of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing – due to take place in 2012-2013, before any further discussions about the need for a new binding international human rights instrument could be made.

The third session of the UN Open-ended Working Group on Ageing is expected to take place in January 2012 at the United Nations in New York. Irish ageing NGOs who would like to attend and participate in this working session should contact the Working Group to enquire about accreditation, and might also contact the Global Alliance on the Rights of Older People – a coalition of NGOs working with older people which is strongly advocating for the adoption of a Convention.

 

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Written by Eilionoir Flynn

Eilionoir Flynn is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Law and Deputy Director of the Centre for Disability Law and Policy, NUIG. Her book “From Rhetoric to Action: Implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011. You can contact her at eilionoir.flynn[at]nuigalway.ie or on (+353) 091 494010