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Law Council of Australia


International Convention on the Rights of Older Persons

9 October 2020

The Law Council has recently adopted an in-principle position in support of the development of an international Convention on the Rights of Older Persons (International Convention). It considers the International Convention to have the potential to play an important role in improving the lives of older people globally, and in turn to inform Australia’s own domestic legal and policy frameworks.

Older persons face specific human rights challenges including poverty, aged-related discrimination and elder abuse. Despite this, there is currently no dedicated international protection regime for the human rights of older persons. References to older persons in this regime are fragmented. In this context, the Law Council welcomes international efforts to consider an International Convention.

Just as other groups, such as women, children, and people with disability have been recognised as requiring specific attention, older persons as a distinct group have specific needs and experiences, and their human rights should be reflected and articulated in a of a focused international treaty.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly established an Open Ended Working Group on Ageing (OWEGA) for the purpose of strengthening the protection of the human rights of older persons. The Working Group is mandated to assess gaps in the existing framework, and importantly to consider the feasibility of further legal instruments. Its work is ongoing, however so far there has been broad recognition that the particular nature of certain human rights challenges faced by older men and women has thus far not been adequately addressed.

Discussions of the rights of older persons, and renewed consideration of the development of a convention on the rights of older persons, are now particularly timely in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely impacted many older persons globally. As underlined by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, for older persons, the crisis is ‘exacerbating existing human rights protection gaps and socio-economic challenges’. Further, any response to COVID-19 must respect the rights and dignity of older people, noting that they have the same rights as anyone else.

Against this backdrop, the Law Council calls for a stronger legal framework at the international level, to protect the human rights of older people – both in emergency settings, such as pandemics, and in everyday settings. Based on the OWEGA’s areas of focus so far, its key areas of focus may include equality and non-discrimination, violence, neglect and abuse, autonomy and independence, long term and palliative care, education and capacity building, and social security. The Law Council has provided input to the upcoming eleventh working session on access to justice and will continue to engage in international discussions concerning the content of the Proposed Convention going forward.

You can read the Law Council's media release here.




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