Statement Commemorating Human Rights Day
December 10, 2010
A. Barry Rand
We mark the 62nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UHDR) at a time when demographic change is resulting in unprecedented numbers of older people worldwide. By 2050, older people will outnumber children for the first time in history.
When the United Nations adopted the UDHR on December 10, 1948, it set down the basic principles that are at the very heart of the human rights movement. It has fostered remarkable progress in human rights and has inspired international human rights standards, laws and institutions that have improved the lives of millions of people around the world.
Despite this progress, older people’s rights are mostly invisible under international law. The UDHR and other international human rights laws that legally obligate governments to recognize the rights of all people, do not explicitly recognize older people. Only one international rights convention—The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families— mandates against age discrimination.
Commitments to the rights of older people do exist, such as the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA). These commitments, however, are not legally binding and impose only a moral obligation on governments to implement them.
Older men and women have the same rights as everyone else. We are all born equal, and this does not change as we grow older. But as the world’s population ages, greater numbers of people will be affected directly by age discrimination and ageism, thereby increasing pressures on governments and societies to respond. Strengthening older people’s human rights is the single best response.
A UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons is necessary to ensure that older people can realize their rights. With a new UN convention, and the assistance of a Social Rapporteur, governments can have an explicit legal framework with guidance and support that would enable them to ensure that older people’s rights are realized in our increasingly aging societies.
On this Human Rights Day, let us remember that reducing inequity is the highest human achievement. It is also our greatest challenge and our shared international imperative. We have made tremendous progress under the UDHR. It is now time to bring the human rights of older persons under the umbrella of international law. A UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons would be the beginning of that process.