In Geneva, on August 29 and 30, 2022, a UN meeting on the human rights of older persons was held to discuss the gaps and fragmentation in the protection of human rights of older persons in international laws.
This meeting was held in application of resolution 48/3 whereby the Human Rights Council requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to convene a multi-stakeholder meeting to discuss the report on normative standards and obligations under international law in relation to the promotion and protection of human rights of older persons.
The conclusions of this meeting will be presented at the 51st session of the Human Rights Council to be held from September 12 to October 7, 2022, in the form of recommendations.
For the past several years, the issue of how societies can adapt to ageing has been a concern. Already in 2002, at the Second World Assembly on Ageing an international agreement was adopted with the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing. Furthermore, the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing was established by the UN General Assembly in 2011. This working group is in charge of evaluating the existing international framework in order to identify possible gaps, decide how to address them, and make proposals for elaborating legal measures to reinforce the protection of human rights of older persons, such as those already in force for children or disabled persons.
As an NGO accredited by the UN with a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council, Alliance VITA took part to point out the need to develop intergenerational solidarity policies and called for increasing the protection of human rights for older persons especially in view of the attempts to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide.
We are faced with new challenges due to the increasing number of older people. Two specific ones came to the forefront during the Covid-19 crisis. As highlighted by the UN Secretary-General in a Policy Brief on the impact of Covid-19, there is a notable risk for the elderly to experience “social death” through isolation. The second important challenge concerns medical support at the end-of-life.
To fight social exclusion and emotional loneliness, it is important to have wide-reaching programs to prevent isolation, and to fight discrimination based on age. To reach this goal, intergenerational solidarity could be developed by implementing programs for young people to support the elderly. Since the time and effort to take care of a loved one can become a real burden for those in the work force, each country should be encouraged to implement social policies which value and compensate family caregivers. For the challenge of taking care of individuals at the end-of-life, it is vital that palliative care be provided for those who need it. No elderly person should be deprived of the care to which he or she is entitled.
The public is increasingly worried about the attempts to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. Even within the UN these practices have been denounced. On January 25, 2021, a joint statement issued by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, as well as the independent expert on the rights of older persons, disapproved these practices since they may incite persons with disabilities or older persons to end their lives prematurely. These highly controversial practices further amplify the discrimination against the aged and are even interiorized by the elderly themselves.
In order to maintain the effectiveness of the right to life, Alliance VITA calls for the legal framework to be reinforced at both national and international levels to guarantee older persons their just and rightful place with the needed support until the end of their lives.