The push for a United Nations convention to protect the rights of older people continues in earnest despite the fact many developed countries, including Australia, maintain their opposition to such a legally binding instrument, writes Marcus Riley.

The twelfth session of the UN’s Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing recently concluded with varying degrees of participation and engagement from member states but renewed commitment from civil society in its advocacy for and by older people.

Marcus Riley

In the months leading up to the UN meetings, significant developments and activities occurred. The UN’s Human Rights Council passed a substantive resolution on ageism and age discrimination – the first of its kind – which highlighted the current gaps in national and international systems and the need for a convention.

A global rally was held with over 1.2 million participants worldwide, promoting the interests of older people and the need to protect their rights now and into the future.

The global rally, convened by GAROP (the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People), was a signpost event for the ongoing Age With Rights Campaign, which was launched in 2021 in response to the call for more action to promote the needs of older people.

At a time when the nations of the world were discussing the major issues affecting older people Australia chose not to be in the room.

The campaign #agewithrights is continuing to gain momentum and provides an accessible way for people to support and contribute to the important work of ensuring the rights of current and future generations of older people everywhere are properly protected.

The UN’s ongoing forum on ageing again exposed the vast and awful examples of older people’s rights being compromised yet was hindered by politics and inadequate responses from national governments.

The input from the Australian Government’s representatives to the UN in New York was minimal. Aside from supporting the accreditation of new NGO organisations at the very start of the session, Australia’s dignitaries did not contribute to discussions, which is both disappointing and concerning.

At a time when the nations of the world were discussing the major issues affecting older people, Australia chose not to be in the room. Is this reflective of our inadequate government policies for aged care and other important systems that older people rely on?

The reasons why a UN convention is needed are numerous and increasing in importance every day. The right to fully participate, be independent and autonomous, be free from neglect and abuse, and the ability to access necessary services are just some examples of basic human rights that all people should be enjoying at all ages.

The pandemic period demonstrated the horrendous acts of discrimination and neglect that sadly older people experience every day. Yet, it seemingly has not altered the position of many national governments as to the need for a legally-binding international instrument.

The coming 12 months will provide further opportunities for organisations and individuals to actively support the rights of older people. Initiatives such as the Age With Rights campaign will gain exposure and increase awareness as to what must be done by our government leaders to get the right outcomes for older people at a global and local level.

Marcus Riley is executive chairman of BallyCara and the immediate past chair and current director of the Global Ageing Network and a member of the steering committee for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People (GAROP). 

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1 Comment

  1. With Rights comes Responsibility!

    The government in its wisdom shelved the “Residents Rights and Responsibilities” legislation in residential care a few years ago and the protection for the elderly has significantly deteriorated!
    Rights must be accompanied by Responsibility!

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