By 2050, population experts say that the number of people over 60 years old will reach the 2 billion-mark worldwide, or more than one-fifth of the total global population. It is therefore necessary for nations to begin shoring up human rights documents that protect them from discrimination and start putting policies in place that ensure they enjoy a good quality of life, the U.N.’s human rights chief said Sep. 16 at a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting.
“Regrettably, prejudice against and stigmatization of older persons are consistently reported everywhere in the world,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated.
Protecting the rights of seniors is an ongoing discussion at the United Nations. The General Assembly established a working group last December to kick-off a global examination of the issue. This group, comprised of member nations and a range of experts, meets to evaluate the existing international human rights framework regarding older persons and to identify possible gaps and how to address them, according the working group’s Web site.
In April, the working group held its inaugural session, followed by a second session in August. AARP, a U.S.-based organization that advocates for seniors, was one of the non-governmental organizations that participated in the discussions.
Jacob Lozada, an AARP board member and spokesman, stated that advocates are working toward making seniors’ rights an integral part of the broader human rights agenda.
“What we see now is that the lack of policies covering these issues is condemning millions of older people to a life of poverty—instead of recognizing the active economic and social contributions they can, and do make to their families and communities,” he said in a statement at the August meeting.
Health care tops the concerns “at the heart of all human rights issues” for seniors, Pillay told the council last week. She also called on nations to put plans in place to establish social protection systems and highlighted the need for pensions to help older persons maintain a reasonable standard of living.
Lozada underscored that specific human rights principles of relevance to older persons—social security (pension) or access to health care, for example—are “embedded” in broad ranging international human rights agreements that address economic, social and other general rights areas.
“Unfortunately, existing international and regional human rights laws do not sufficiently protect the rights of the aging population,” he stated.
Edwin L. Walker, speaking on behalf of the U.S. government at the April meeting, noted in his statement that the United States has policies and programs in place to protect “the rights and dignity, while promoting the independence of older people.” Walker is the deputy assistant secretary for program operations with the Administration of Aging, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
He pointed to “four cornerstones” in U.S. policy for seniors: the Social Security Act, Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act. Walker also highlighted American legislation to protect seniors from discrimination, such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Walker stated that the United States complies with established U.N. principles with regard to older persons, as he lamented the struggles of the elderly around the world. “We should continue to discuss how to better protect their rights and treat them with respect on an equal basis,” he said.