What is the value of a new UN convention?

A short guide for NGOs and self-advocates

This page provides arguments in favour of a UN convention on the rights of older people. It is part of AGE wider #EULeadsTheRally campaign started ahead of the UN Open-Ended Working Group - 11th session.


A UN convention as a FRAME

“I believe you miss the point if you confine the convention to the traditional role of challenging bad laws and policies. To me the most important potential of the convention resides in its potential to transform the process that leads to these laws in the first place.” -- Prof. Gerard Quinn

We are framing every time we communicate. Over time, the way that an issue is framed will have an impact on how we and others think and feel about it, and ultimately how we respond to it. It can become our common sense: the default way we think about an issue.


Why current frames don’t work

If we frame ageing as problem, our response to it is likely to be based on fear and leave older people behind. If we consider older people as a ‘frail’ and ‘dependent’, we fail to develop policies that can tap on older people’s potential and ensure their full participation in society. When we focus on individual vulnerabilities, instead of the vulnerabilities of our systems, we fail to look at the circumstances that no longer make it possible to live at home or contribute to society, such as age limits in laws, the range or quality of services or an inaccessible building. But in reality, we can all contribute and prosper in an enabling environment and with adequate support.

Is ‘active ageing’ enough?

The EU has gradually shifted its approach and has recognized the opportunities of an ageing population and the importance of intergenerational solidarity and of active and healthy ageing. But they have not done so unambiguously or in a consistent way. In practice, the competing paradigm of ageing as a problem is still prevailing.

This has been exemplified during the pandemic, as older people have been stigmatized as homogeneously vulnerable and in need of protection and when suggestions to ‘tax older persons to pay for sacrifices younger generations’ have been made. But also, the recent Green Paper on Ageing has as its departure point the idea that an ageing population is a challenge for economies and for future generations. 

This framing is highly problematic and stands in stark contrast with the Council Conclusion adopted by the EU Council in the frame of the German presidency, which called for a ‘rights-based approach’ to ageing.

How can a convention help?

A convention can provide a definite framing of ageing based on human rights, which will shape answers about the future we want and need. It would reaffirm that people, no matter their age, are equal in dignity and rights and thus authoritatively challenge the prevailing negative status associated with older age. A convention can trigger a dynamic of change that might otherwise not happen or not at the needed pace. A convention cannot provide all the answers but it can help us come up with the necessary ambition to change the laws, policies and services that create disadvantage in the first place.

Want to learn more?


A convention as a TOOL

“A right is not what someone gives you; it’s what no one can take from you.” -- Ramsey Clark, former United States Attorney General

Legal value

Human rights conventions create legal obligations on states to refrain from action that interferes with individual rights; to protect their citizens from abuses by others and to take action to fulfil the enjoyment of rights. What makes conventions powerful is that state voluntarily accept them and agree to abide by them.

Aren’t existing treaties enough?

Existing human rights conventions are not adequately equipped to challenge ageist practices and discriminatory patterns entrenched in laws, policies and institutional structures. For instance, they still accept age limits in laws that deny us the opportunity to equally contribute within society when we are older. A convention would create greater accountability for human rights violations against older persons.

Trigger for change

Older people have the same rights as everyone else. But state and local actors need more detailed guidance in order to address the specific rights violations experienced in older age. A convention could require government to make legal reforms to outlaw age discrimination; address more concretely the digital gap; including binding standards for home care provision, etc.

Older people as participants

A convention would impose an obligation on states to consult older persons through their representative organisations in all processes that affect their human rights. It would be easier for NGOs to defend our rights, instead of relying on disperse and incomplete provisions in various documents.


A new UN convention could encourage the consistent application of an ageing perspective within the UN system. It could also help better address multiple disadvantages that occur at the intersections of different forms of inequalities.

You want to campaign for a UN convention?


For more information about this campaign, please contact Nena Georgantzi, Policy Coordinator on Human Rights & Non-Discriminationnena.georgantzi@age-platform.eu

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The contents of the articles are the sole responsibility of AGE Platform Europe and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission.