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OAS Convenes Debate on the Creation of an Inter-American Convention on the Rights of Older Persons

  October 28, 2010

Member State representatives of the Organization of American States (OAS) and experts on the subject of human rights and older persons met today at Organization headquarters in Washington, DC, to discuss the feasibility of creating a convention that protects and further promotes the rights of older persons.

The panel of experts, who contributed to a discussion during a special session of the Permanent Council, in fulfillment of the OAS General Assembly mandate to, among other things, examine the feasibility of an inter-American convention on Human Rights and Older Persons, was integrated by Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO); Mario López, of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); Enrique Vega, of PAHO; Luz Ángela Melo, of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Dirk Jaspers, of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); and Fiona Clark, of HelpAge International.

Besides this issue, other items discussed were the possibility of creating a working group and of drafting a declaration for the OAS General Assembly to be held in June of 2011 in San Salvador. The proposals were described as “very important” by Ambassador Joaquín Maza, Permanent Representative of El Salvador and Chair of the Permanent Council.

Víctor Rico, OAS Secretary for Political Affairs, highlighted the importance of the debate and quoted PAHO figures, which show that approximately 50 percent of people 60 years and older do not have access to economic resources to satisfy their daily needs, and that a third of them do not have the benefits of retirement, a pension or paid work. He added that at least 50 percent of adult people in Latin America and the Caribbean have good health, and 20 percent have a basic handicap that demands permanent care at home or at an institution. Rico held that “an aging population constitutes a complex reality that poses new challenges to States in seeking a specific treatment to meet the particular needs of the older population, because their rights deserve special international promotion and protection.”

Fiona Clark, of HelpAge International, an organization whose mission is to protect the rights of older persons, said that “a convention on the rights of older persons would ensure that gains in the protection of the population, its rights and development at younger ages are not lost in old age.” She added that, “A document of this type would help create a society for all ages and could help fight the age discrimination that exists in the region.” The HelpAge International representative also said that the creation of such a framework would set up a legal obligation and an economic, social and moral accountability mechanism for governments and civil society, and would attract greater investment in old age and in the rights and dignity of older persons.”

Dirk Jaspers, of ECLAC, agreed on the benefits of creating a convention of this type. “The absence of a specific regulatory support, particularly in the form of a treaty, similar to those already in existence relative to vulnerable and/or socially discriminated groups, brings with itself a series of consequences of a practical order for the promotion and protection of the rights of older people,” he said. The ECLAC representative added that “a convention today is a necessary tool, and above all would give maximum priority to older people while clarifying the principles of human rights that should guide the laws, policies and development programs in the context of the new demographic change.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), according to Mario López, would be “available to assess the Member States in its capacity as the principal OAS body for human rights,” though he recalled that “the regional system already has a series of juridical mechanisms to protect the rights of older persons.”

Among other examples, he mentioned the work of general observation that allows the IACHR to request information from the States and civil society to conduct studies and publish reports in specific countries or regions, and the individual petitions that may be made when it is considered that a violation of human rights has taken place against an older person and state responsibility exists.

The situation in the hemisphere regarding this population is changing rapidly, various experts agreed, quoting current and projected figures. One of them: while in the region of the Americas in 2006 there were 106 million people over 60 years of age, in 2050 this figure will reach 310 million, with 190 million of them in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to PAHO statistics.

“According to the studies and visits we have conducted in the organization to different countries of the region, the mistreatment of older persons in public sectors as much as in private is a growing problem,” Roses, the PAHO Director, said. “Health and aging in the Americas today are a race against time,” Enrique Vega, also of the PAHO, added. According to the PAHO Plan of Action, to face this challenge it is necessary to “make an important reordering of international cooperation to face the mandates associated with aging and health,” Vega said.

Luz Ángela Melo, in representation of UNFPA, reiterated the importance of focusing on human rights upon formulating and implementing policies and programs in favor of the older population, and insisted on three key principles: to prevent discrimination, of fundamental importance today since it has been confirmed that older people suffer general stigma, exclusion and violence; to promote participation, since it is important to understand that older people contribute substantially to their families, communities and societies in general, and as such must participate in any decision that concerns them; and accountability, that is, that judicial systems protect the rights of older people, even, for example, with more serious punishment for crimes committed against them.

Civil society representatives and OAS Member States also spoke during the meeting. The Member States who took the floor were Uruguay, Dominican Republic, Peru, Brazil, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Canada, Nicaragua, Argentina, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, El Salvador, the United States and Bolivia.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-409/10