Civil society stronger than ever in urging States to adopt a UN convention on the rights of older persons
Civil society organisations showed strong unity and delivered powerful statements, calling for Member States to start drafting a UN convention on the rights of older persons without delay. This strong mobilisation contrasted with the lack of commitment from governments and the European Union, despite the recognition of the challenges older people face.
The 13th session of the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG13) was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City from 3 to 6 April 2023. The session discussed the normative inputs from last year on the contribution of older persons to sustainable development, and economic security in addition to this year’s new focus areas on social inclusion, and the right to health and access to health services.
This first in-person session since the COVID-19 pandemic allowed several civil society organisations (CSOs) to meet and represent the voices of older persons at global level. AGE was represented by Dr Heidrun Mollenkopf from BAGSO (Germany). Moira Allan from Old Up (France) and Juergen Focke from HelpAge Deutschland also participated in the OEWG13.
European Union and EU Member States’ interventions
While over 50 UN Member States took the floor on the first day to acknowledge the challenges older persons face, their participation and engagement were very limited during the rest of the session. On the last day of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG13), UN Member States adopted by consensus a decision, sketching the way forward ahead of the 14th session in 2024.
On the side of EU countries, Portugal publicly proclaimed, for the first time in the OEWG, its support in adopting an international legally binding instrument. Portugal publicly stated this political decision during the multi-stakeholder meeting back in August 2022. During a statement at the 52nd Human Rights Council in Geneva (from 27 February to 31 March 2023), Malta publicly declared that they were in favour of the adoption of a UN convention on the rights of older persons. Malta is the fourth EU Member State to join Slovenia, Austria, and Portugal in wanting to adopt an international legally binding instrument.
The European Union (EU) for its part made a statement on the first and last day of the OEWG13. During the first day, the EU recognised that older persons are overlooked, despite their experience, knowledge, and skills. The EU also mentioned older persons with disabilities and older women, which shows their will to implement an intersectional approach when tackling issues of older persons. Finally, the EU stated that ‘more needs to be done to ensure that older people are effectively included and valued in our society. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the voices of older persons are heard, their needs met, and their human rights protected’. While acknowledging EU’s political will to work on the rights of older persons, this statement lags behind the EU’s commitment to ‘step up action to ensure full enjoyment of all human rights by older persons [and to] actively engage with the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing’, as stated in the Council conclusions on EU priorities in UN human rights fora (para 21). Indeed, the European Commission did not participate in the 13th session and the EU delegation in New York did not speak during the interactive panel discussions. We hope that with the establishment of the new unit on LGBTIQ, Age, Horizontal Matters in Directorate-General Justice and Consumers (DG JUST) of the European Commission (read our article), it will be possible for the EU to dedicate financial and human resources to advance the rights of older persons and to better coordinate input for the 14th OEWG session.
Strong civil society engagement
17 new NGOs applied to be accredited and were granted the status, which allows them to participate in to the OEWG. In this session, there was more diversity, including in panels and self-advocates. Among them, we can cite Theresa Flavin, self-advocate for the rights of persons with dementia and Ovide Mercredi, who is Cree, spoke on behalf of older Indigenous people. They made powerful interventions and mentioned the limitations of the current international framework of the human rights of older persons.
CSOs reiterated their call for the meaningful involvement of NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the Open-Ended Working Group. This is crucial to ensure that the ongoing and future discussions on a UN convention on the rights of older persons includes the lived experiences of older persons and- integrates a human rights-based approach.
Before the OEWG13, we took part in the Age With Rights Campaign - Global Rally, organised by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People (GAROP), raising our members’ voice in favour of a new convention.
Our Secretary General, Maciej Kucharczyk, recorded a video that was displayed during the first day of the OEWG13, in which he reiterated the need to support a UN convention on the rights of older persons, given the limited scope of other EU and international legally binding instruments.
'As the voice of older people in the EU, AGE Platform Europe calls on national governments and the EU to start drafting a UN convention on the rights of older people so that we can all age with rights. We urge policy makers to ensure the meaningful participation of older people and their representative organisations in the next steps of this drafting process through regional and national consultations.'
Maciej Kucharczyk, Secretary General of AGE Platform Europe
Representing AGE, Dr Heidrun Mollenkopf made several interventions, including a statement on normative inputs and a final statement, where she urged Member States to support the draft decision that would allow to provide a platform for open and transparent discussions. She mentioned that NGOs were ready to support this process, strengthening the call of NGOs to be fully included in this intersessional mechanism.
'We are disappointed it took 13 sessions to find such a way forward, 13 long years for older persons around the world whose rights are not adequately respected, protected and guaranteed. We therefore expect the group to immediately start their work. And we call on states to support this draft decision and we reiterate our call for a convention as the only means to definitely render visible and tackle the deep structural ageism that makes rights diminish in the course of our lives.'
Heidrun Mollenkopf, BAGSO (Germany)
Appointment of two co-facilitators
After the 12th session of the OEWG last year, a Cross-Regional Core Group was created at the initiative of Argentina as a concrete way to move the discussions forward. The Cross-Regional Core group, which brings together several Member States committed to advancing the human rights of older persons at UN level and in-between the OEWG sessions, presented a draft decision during the last day of the OEWG13. They requested that the Chair of the OEWG, Ambassador Squeff of Argentina, nominated 2 co-facilitators from one developing country and one developed country by 01 May 2023. All Member States adopted the decision by consensus.
A few days after the OEWG13, Portugal and Brazil were appointed as the 2 co-facilitators.
The role of the co-facilitators is to conduct informal consultations between the 13th and the 14th session of the Open-Ended Working Group. National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and NGOs should be included in the process. We will make sure that this process will allow older people to raise their voices, for example through regional and local meetings that will feed into the work of the two co-facilitators. NGOs, including AGE, and NHRIs were supportive of the draft decision. However, we deplored the lack of transparency towards the civil society organisations. Indeed, the Cross-Regional Core Group did not involve CSOs. We will try to ensure that this does not happen again.
Next Steps for our Advocacy Towards a UN Convention
As a follow-up to the 13th session, we organised in April an Internal Debrief Session, where over 35 members of AGE participated. This showed our members’ interest and key involvement in this process.
"We hope that at the next Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing, Spain will be more active and included in the list of countries that are supporting a UN convention because we consider that it is absolutely important for the development of our future."
Angel Yagüe Criado, CEOMA (Spain)
"It is positive that a Belgian representative was present and took the floor, but we will not be fully satisfied until Belgium commits itself to support a Convention and, ideally, promote the idea so that the European position changes towards an unequivocally positive stance."
Marc Soubry, Vlaamse OuderenRaad (Belgium)
In preparation of the 14th session, we will continue to raise awareness on the importance of adopting a UN Convention on the rights of older persons at EU and national levels. We will also further support the capacity of our members in asking for their governments to engage and commit on advancing the human rights of older persons, including during the next European elections in 2024 and the upcoming Belgian and Spanish Presidencies of the European Union.
Call for actions for older people's organisations
- Organise national consultations to analyse limitations and gaps and discuss how to improve protection on the human rights of older persons.
- Collaborate with National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs).
- Collaborate with other equality networks such as organisations of older persons with disabilities and women’s organisations.
- Reach out to current and candidate Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to raise awareness on the necessity of adopting a UN convention on the rights of older persons.
- Hold the governments accountable for their participation (or lack thereof) and statements during the OEWG and encourage them to be actively engaged in future sessions.
- OEWG13 Webpage
- Article on OEWG12
- Article on the multi-stakeholder meeting
- Heidrun's statements on behalf of AGE: on normative inputs - on the way forward
- BAGSO’s statement during the OEWG13
- Learn more about the UN Open-Ended Working Group
- What is the Value of a New UN Convention?
- Learn more about the Global Rally