UN Convention on Rights of Older Persons

The EveryAGE Counts campaign and the Older Persons Advocacy Network are calling on the Australian Government to support the development of a new UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons, claiming the human rights of older people are currently poorly defined and routinely overlooked.

Today marks an international day of action in support of the Convention on the Rights of Older Persons, with gathering momentum to create and ratify a new convention. But although Australia has historically played an active role in advancing similar conventions – relating to rights of children, women, and people with disabilities – the Australian Government is yet to throw the nation’s support behind the new global initiative.

EveryAGE Counts campaign co-chair and human rights advocate Robert Tickner said the time was perfect for Australia to formally get behind the global movement.

“Ageism is a barrier to older people enjoying general human rights protections. Because our society often values older lives less than other lives, we tend to see the diminishing status of people as they age which pushes them to the margins as rights holders,” Mr Tickner said.

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“While in theory, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights has no expiry date, as advocates for children, people with disability, and those who experience racial or gender discrimination have already found, general human rights protections are no substitute for specificity.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a turning point in recognising the burning need to step up on human rights protections for older people around the world. During the pandemic, we have seen human rights – such as the right to health and the right to participate in decision-making about personal circumstances – arguably denied to many older people, especially those in some parts of the aged care system in many parts of the world.

“Meanwhile, we know older Australians seeking employment currently face discrimination on a mass scale, with a recent survey finding almost 30 per cent of Australian employers confirming they are reluctant to hire workers over ‘a certain age.’ For more than two thirds of this group, that age was over 50.

“What we need is a defined international rights framework that calls out the discrimination of ageism and places the human rights of older people alongside those guaranteed to others. Without this framework, we lack even a commonly understood language or set of values to talk about the rights of older people and whether they might have been violated.

“Historically, both sides of politics have supported Australia playing an important role in leading the world on passing and implementing conventions designed to dismantle prejudice and discrimination. However thus far Australia has not played a comparably significant role in working for the establishment of an International Convention on the Rights of Older People. That needs to change.”

Older Persons Advocacy Network chief executive Craig Gear said the proposed new convention was necessary.

“Australia supporting an international convention would provide an explicit universal statement that reaffirms the essential truth that older persons are entitled to human rights and fundamental freedoms on the same basis as everyone else,” Mr Gear said.

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