Press Release

IACHR Urges States to Guarantee the Rights of Older People during the COVID-19 Pandemic

April 23, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - As part of the work of the Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit for the COVID-19 pandemic (SACROI COVID-19), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged states to provide greater protection for older people, who are particularly vulnerable during the pandemic, and to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee their rights in accordance with the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons, and the standards and recommendations set out in IACHR Resolution No. 01/20, “The Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas.”

The IACHR expressed its concern regarding the vulnerability of the 76 million older people living in the region. This vulnerability has seriously increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as older people are more susceptible to infection. The IACHR is deeply concerned about the high rates of infection, hospital admissions, and deaths of older people recorded in the last month. The IACHR urged states to guarantee the right to physical and mental health and adopt the necessary measures to prevent contagion in all areas, particularly in long-term residences, hospitals, and places where people are deprived of their freedom. To this end, they should also prioritize COVID-19 testing for older people.

In view of the worsening of this crisis and the ensuing shortages of medical supplies, the IACHR is concerned that older people are being exposed to a greater degree of discrimination and stigmatization within health services, such as when triaging or assigning respirators. States must act to guarantee their right to life, health, and personal integrity and to avoid any form of discrimination on the basis of age or ageism. The IACHR called on states to ensure that medical protocols, bioethical guidelines, and medical resource and treatment decisions regarding COVID-19 are developed and implemented without discrimination on the basis of age. The IACHR also recalled that states are obliged to guarantee the right of older people with COVID-19 to give prior, full, free, and informed consent to the treatments and medications they are to receive. Likewise, during isolation, special attention should be given to older people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and those who require medication and regular care or palliative care, which should be provided in a timely and appropriate manner.

The IACHR stressed that states must adopt and strengthen all legislative, administrative, budgetary, and other measures to guarantee that older people receive differentiated, preferential treatment in all areas, including them as a matter of priority and in an appropriate manner in their contingency plans. In this regard, the IACHR appreciates the efforts of states such as Costa Rica and Canada, which have implemented budget increases to strengthen their national authorities’ responses to further the protection of older people during the pandemic.

Likewise, any measures adopted should identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers to older people’s access to supplies, public services, care, information, and means of communication during isolation. The IACHR also stressed the need for cooperation between states and private companies that provide essential services and goods to facilitate priority access for older people by implementing special timetables for serving them, as is already being implemented at several supermarket chains and banks in the region.

Furthermore, the IACHR urged states to adopt special measures to mitigate the differentiated economic impact the current crisis is having on the elderly by facilitating access to their pensions, as this is their main means of subsistence, including evaluating the possibility of advancing these or facilitating electronic access to them. These measures should be accompanied by secure payment strategies that protect individuals by avoiding overcrowding and contagion, with special hours of service or preferential treatment at payment points, assisted by police personnel trained in the proper treatment of older people and promoted through accessible communication campaigns. The IACHR acknowledged that several states are already implementing measures in this regard.

The IACHR called on states to consider the balance that should exist between protection from COVID-19 and older people’s particular need to connect with their families, and to provide telephone or internet-based communication channels to prevent their emotional state from deteriorating. Likewise, contingency measures must address the digital divide that makes it difficult for older people to communicate with their families or work remotely.

There is also concern about the risk of an increase in gender-based violence and the abuse and neglect of older people in isolation. The IACHR recommended that states strengthen supervision and monitoring measures for the protection of older people and facilitate access to complaints mechanisms.

The IACHR called for any policy or measures adopted by states in relation to the pandemic to take a cross-cutting approach and include a gender perspective. Special attention should be given to those groups of older people who are affected in multiple ways by COVID-19, such as women, indigenous people, people of African descent, LGBTI people, people who are deprived of their freedom, migrants, or people with disabilities, for whom Resolution No. 1/20 establishes enhanced protection standards. Furthermore, the IACHR called on states to adopt humanitarian aid measures to guarantee that older people who are homeless or living in extreme poverty have access to food, water, and sanitation. The IACHR acknowledged that several states have made efforts to this end by implementing subsidy or grant programs using secure payment systems, or have provided shelter for these groups.

Likewise, given the seriousness of the situation of older people who are deprived of their freedom, the IACHR reiterated that states should consider granting alternative sentences to those who are less dangerous or who are ready to serve their sentences. This is without prejudice to the fact that such applications regarding people who are at risk but have been convicted of serious human rights violations should be assessed according to the corresponding criteria, following a more rigorous analysis and requirements, in accordance with the principle of proportionality and the applicable inter-American standards. The IACHR urged that appropriate detention and quarantine conditions be guaranteed in order to prevent contagion within detention centers.

In view of the above, the IACHR observed recommendations 41 to 45 of Resolution No. 01/20, “The Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas,” in order to ensure respect for older people as full subjects of law during the COVID-19 pandemic, in accordance with human rights standards. The IACHR also recommends that states:

1. Adopt the necessary measures to prevent contagion, prioritize medical care, and avoid ageism, guaranteeing older people the right to give consent in regarding health-related matters and facilitating contact with family members.

2. Ensure older people’s access to public services and essential goods, including differential and preferential treatment, identifying and eliminating obstacles and addressing the digital divide.

3. Strengthen monitoring and surveillance measures to prevent violence toward and neglect of older people.

4. Ratify or accede to the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Older Persons.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 088/20