Press Release

IACHR Calls on States to Combat Discrimination against Older Persons

October 4, 2017

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) commemorates the International Day of Older Persons recognizing the important contributions older adults make to society, and urges States to reaffirm their commitment to fight against stereotypes and discriminatory conduct towards older persons, also known as ageism.

According United Nations statistics, it is estimated that by the year 2050 there will be more than 2 billion people aged 60 and over—that is, more than 20% of the world's population. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the present population of people aged 60 and over is 76 million; it is estimated that this figure will reach 147 million people in 2037, and 264 million in 2075. In the United States and Canada, it is estimated that there will be about 115 million older persons by 2060.

The IACHR notes with great concern that older persons face various forms of discrimination daily. Older persons are often excluded from the labor market, face multiple obstacles in access to public and private services, are presented in the media through stereotypes, and are victims of various forms of violence, which contributes to their vulnerability, exclusion, and invisibility in society. In this sense, the main challenges for older persons in the region are the continuous improvement of laws, as well as the implementation of protection mechanisms and programs to ensure the effective enjoyment of their human rights, such as the regulation and administration of social services, health, and long-term and palliative care. Likewise, intersectional discrimination against older persons based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race/ethnicity, disability status, situation of poverty, extreme poverty or social marginalization, nationality, religion, situation of deprivation of liberty, migration status or statelessness is a continuing challenge.

In the framework of the 162nd Period of Sessions held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from May 21-26, 2017, and in accordance with its Strategic Plan 2017-2021, the IACHR decided to create a Unit on the Rights of Older Persons.

In this regard, Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, President of the IACHR, stated that: "The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have been leaders at the global level in advancing the agenda of protecting the human rights of older persons. The IACHR’s creation of the Thematic Unit on the Rights of Older Persons seeks to accompany these efforts and respond to the problems of a demographic group that has historically been invisibilized. The forms of discrimination suffered by older people and the way they are treated and perceived by their societies, in particular as regards rights such as health, work, social security, and pensions, create environments that seriously affect their possibility to have a dignified life."

For his part, Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi, Head of the IACHR’s Unit on the Rights of Older Persons, stated: "Despite the progress that has been made in there is still much to be done to ensure the enjoyment of their rights in practice and to enable the active participation of older persons in the economic, social, cultural and political spheres of their societies. The International Day of Older Persons is a reminder of the great challenges that our states and societies must still face in order to guarantee the full potential of what a life should mean for older persons. That is why today we make this call to action."

The Commission stresses the important role of business for the effective enjoyment of the human rights of older persons, and the importance of the fight against discrimination against older persons for economic development and social inclusion in the region. In this regard, the Commission considers of utmost importance the establishment of policies and protocols that promote the rights of older persons, both in the public sector and in the private sector, in terms of corporate social responsibility and sustainability. Given the central role of the private sector in the provision of necessary services to older persons, including in the labor, financial, medical, social security, and pensions sectors, taking affirmative steps to guarantee and promote the rights of elderly people is key to those rights’ effectiveness in practice. The development of protocols from companies and the private sector, in conjunction with States and civil society organizations, is necessary in the region. The Commission also considers it necessary for authorities—in particular, judges, prosecutors and judicial operators—to collect disaggregated statistics and data regarding human rights violations committed against older persons.

The IACHR recognizes that significant progress has been made in the area of the rights of older persons in recent years in the region, exemplified by the adoption of the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of Older Persons in 2015—the first and, to date, only international treaty on the subject. At the national level, a number of countries in the region have also promoted public policies and laws to promote and protect the human rights of older people, led primarily by the Regional Intergovernmental Conference on Aging and the Rights of the Elderly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The IACHR calls on those OAS Member States that have not yet done so to ratify the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of Older Persons and to take concrete and timely measures to reform their public policies and internal laws to protect and promote the rights of older persons. The IACHR also calls on States to create necessary institutions and train officials on 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 defense of 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. 152/17