Intervention by the Permanent Representative of the Argentine Republic, Amb. Martín García Moritán
It is an honor to have been invited again to the “ASEM Conference on Global Ageing and Human Rights of Older Persons”. I am very happy to be here once more and to deliver these remarks at the opening of the Conference in my capacity as Chair of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing of the UN General Assembly.
I would like to start by thanking the ASEM Global Ageing Center and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea for organizing this very important event. This conference serves as an important platform to engage in a substantive and meaningful debate about the situation of the human rights of older persons and to raise awareness of the importance of this issue at present. The discussions that took place during the 3rd ASEM Conference last year were very fruitful and triggered off key issues and ideas from which to move forward in order to assure the protection and fulfillment of the human rights of older persons. Today, I would like to reflect upon the current situation regarding the protection and realization of their rights, the goals achieved so far as well as our future challenges.
By the year 2050, older persons will be the highest growing age group globally and, according to the World Population Prospects 2019 published last June by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the number of persons aged 80 years or over is projected to triple, from 143 million in 2019 to 426 million in 2050. Therefore, it will be impossible to achieve sustainable and long lasting development if we leave behind the fastest growing social group: any strategy of sustainable development must include them as active subjects and agents of change.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the role of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing, created in 2010 by the UN General Assembly. Since its creation, the OEWGA has been a platform open to the participation of all UN Member States, UN agencies, intergovernmental organizations, civil society, national human rights institutions, academia, the private sector, and other relevant stakeholders, with the clear purpose of enhancing the promotion and protection of the human rights of older persons by considering the existing international framework, identifying possible gaps and how best to address them.
During the first 7 sessions of the Working Group, the discussion centered around the existing international legal framework on the situation of older persons, namely the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing of 2002 and the existing human rights treaty body mechanisms. These debates brought up two main views on this issue: while some States believe that the existing legal framework is complete and appropriate and that the gaps in the protection of the human rights of older persons are due to lack of implementation or political will with regards to the existing instruments, another group is convinced that the existing international legal framework is incomplete and lacks coherence, specificity and a binding nature, proposing therefore, the establishment of an international legally binding instrument for the protection of the human rights of older persons.
Since no consensus was able to be reached on this issue during the first 7 sessions, at its VIII session the Group decided to shift the focus of its debates and have substantive and meaningful discussions on specific areas that affect the human rights of older persons and where further protection may be needed. Following this approach, at the IX session, which took place in July 2018, the discussions focused on “Autonomy and independence” and “Long term and palliative care”. Furthermore, for the first time the Group held an interactive discussion in order to follow up on the substantive debates it had held during its VIII session with regards to the areas of “Equality and non-discrimination” and “Violence, neglect and abuse” in order to continue building on them from a strictly normative and action oriented approach. In addition, in my capacity as Chair, proposed the members of the Group to consider the possibility of having concrete outcomes out of each session in order to capitalize our deliberations and reflect our agreements on key issues related to the enjoyment of the human rights of older persons.
Last April, during the X session of the OEWGA the participation of Member States significantly increased, which shows greater interest in the work of this Group. During the general debate, delegations emphasized that population ageing can no longer be ignored, especially taking into account that the proportion of older persons is growing at a faster rate than the general population.
Following the general debate, the OEWG held two interactive discussions on “Education, training, life-long learning and capacity building" and "Social protection and social security (including social protection floors)". Additionally, the two focus areas from the previous session were discussed from a normative perspective: “Autonomy and Independence” and “Long-term and Palliative Care”.
Regarding the selection of the focus areas for the XI session of the OEWG, to be held from 6 to 9 April 2020, following informal consultations with Member and Observer States conducted at Bureau level during the inter-sessional period, the OEWG selected the areas of "Access to Justice” and “the Right of Work and Access to the Labour Market”.
In addition, during the X session it was also highlighted the urgent need for strengthening the further implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing in order to achieve its goals as well as to seize this instrument as a channel to promote an age-inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The SG in his last report on the Follow – up to the Second World Assembly on Ageing drew attention to the significant implication that the inclusion of older people may have in the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. Additionally, he highlighted the fact that in the voluntary national reviews presented during the HLPF this year, "few countries reported the inclusion of ageing –related priorities in their national sustainable development strategies”.
The maximum pledge of the 2030 Agenda of "Leaving no one behind" calls us for action to join our efforts so that the full exercise of the rights of older people is not only respected but also effectively guaranteed by the States.
Addressing this global issue now will not only guarantee the protection of the human rights of all older persons but it will also pave the way for States to be better prepared to face the future challenge of an ever faster growing ageing population. This reality imposes us the crucial challenge of rethinking and redefining the way we see, conceive and address ageing.
The lack of visibility of older persons in the 2030 agenda could well be understood considering the following premise: in order to guarantee an age-inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals it is of utmost importance to be clear about the obligations of the States to assure the effective enjoyment of their human rights.
In this respect, according to the Independent Expert, Ms. Rosa Kornfeld, the lack of a wide and integrated international legally binding instrument when it comes to the promotion and protection of the human rights and dignity of older persons has strong practical implications: it is still very difficult to clearly establish the obligations of Member States towards the human rights of older persons since the current legal framework does not work as a guide for governments and their governmental policies. This absence of a specific legal instrument may also explain the lack of attention to the specific problems of older persons in the global regulatory framework, in particular the Sustainable Development Goals.
Likewise, during the last session of the OEWGA, some delegations as well as several NGOs and NHRIs stressed the need for an international legally binding instrument that can clearly establish the obligations of Member States when it comes to the protection of the Human Rights of older persons.
In my capacity as Chair of the OEWGA I emphasized the importance of having concise, concrete and intergovernmentally negotiated outcomes resulting from each session of the OEWGA as one of our main challenges we face now. These outcomes will be key to in order to capture the core of the discussions and debates and take stock of the agreements reached with respect to key issues that might affect the enjoyment of the human rights of older persons. While a few delegations expressed their reservations about a negotiated outcome document, a majority encouraged the drafting of an outcome document that reflects the result of the discussions held during the sessions.
Population ageing is a global issue that needs to be addressed from a human rights-based approach. Only through the full exercise of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, will older persons participate actively in society. That is why a universal, specific and legally binding instrument will provide sufficient standards to ensure the full enjoyment of our rights during old age.
In our Working Group we are proud to have been recognized as the most prominent international forum specifically devoted to the rights of older persons. The OEWGA has acted as a platform from which the wide and active participation of all the relevant stakeholders has given visibility to the need for promoting, protecting and strengthening the human rights of older persons and has helped reflecting upon innovative courses of action that will best meet their current and future needs.
It is undeniable that older persons can make a significant contribution to the social, economic and sustainable development of their societies, if an enabling environment and adequate guarantees are in place. In that sense, it is imperative to fully empower older persons to allow them to effectively make that contribution, becoming not only recipients of special care and social protection, but also specific rights holders and active, autonomous and independent agents and beneficiaries of change.
As Nelson Mandela once said: "A society that does not value its older people denies its roots and endangers its future”. Let us celebrate and follow Mandela´s unique legacy to humanity by striving to enhance the full protection and realization of their rights.