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Ensuring older people can live with dignity

Graphic: Old woman sits on stair, Sri Lanka

The NHRIs of Australia, India, Korea and the Philippines shared their insights into the challenges facing older people with the UN's panel on ageing.

With the number of older people worldwide growing at unprecedented rate, national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in the Asia Pacific region have drawn attention to the multiple and intersecting challenges that older people face in living with dignity as they age.

The NHRIs of Australia, India, Korea and the Philippines shared their research and insights on these issues at the eighth session of the UN's Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing, held in New York from 5-7 July 2017.

The four APF members joined with NHRIs from other parts of the globe, along with representatives from government and civil society organisations, at the annual meeting.

Discussions over the three days focused on the themes of "equality and non-discrimination" and "neglect, violence and abuse".

These themes were also discussed at a side event hosted by the APF on 6 July that examined the practical work of NHRIs to promote and protect the rights of older people.


Violence, neglect and abuse of older people is a dark and hidden scourge in our communities. It is real and it is rife …We need to ensure not only that older people are protected and safe from abuse, but that their dignity, autonomy and right to self-determination are respected

Australian Human Rights Commission Logo Dr Kay Patterson, Age Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission

APF members were among a number of participants who highlighted the importance of countering negative community attitudes in relation to older people and ageing.

"It is evident that the enjoyment of all human rights diminishe[s] with age, due to the negative notion that older persons are somehow less productive, less valuable to society, and a burden to the economy and to younger generations,'' Chairperson of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing, Ambassador Martín García Moritán, wrote in his summary of proceedings.

As a result, older people are commonly seen as "a passive target of special protection and paternalistic measures", rather than active agents of change who "can make significant contributions to social development".

"This structural ageism and prejudice against older persons … leads to the exclusion and discrimination of older persons and must be combated," the Ambassador Moritán noted.

Discussions also focused on the gaps in the international human rights protection system and a range of proposals were put forward to address them, including the need for universal standards for the protection of older people against violence, neglect and abuse.

These issues will be discussed further at the 2nd ASEM Conference on Global Ageing and Human Rights of Older Persons. The conference, to be hosted by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, will run from 19-21 September 2017 and be held in Seoul.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea currently serves as the Chair of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions Working Group on Ageing.

Date: 11 August 2017


UN Building, New York

This year's session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing was a milestone for NHRIs. It was the first time a New York-based UN body had formally allowed the independent participation of NHRIs in its work.

This development is the end result of significant and consistent advocacy by the APF and the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions over a number of years.


Image credits

  1. Old woman sits on stair, Sri Lanka - Adam Jones, Flickr; http://bit.ly/2wfof31
  2. UN Building, New York - APF/James Iliffe