Opening statement by Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
President of the Council,
Colleagues and friends,
Last year, the Council's annual panel discussion on technical cooperation focused on the 2030 Agenda.
As you very much appreciated at that time, Member State's implementation of the sustainable development agenda is occurring at a time of global transformations, including those deeply impacting on human rights.
Climate events, new technologies, rapid urbanization, people on the move: change is all around us, impacting on us all, driving popular and populist movements, shaping public political discourse, and urging new policy priorities.
The SDGs are indeed powerful tools by which to engage and help shape those forces into constructive human rights-centered changes: the change we need - change that secures us all as rights-holders.
For that sustainable agenda to take hold, full engagement of people is simply essential. People-centered, people-including, rights-based delivery – changes for, with them, accountable to them – is key.
But change is happening too in regard to demography of the world's people today. Marked changes – offering enormous strategic benefits and positing new opportunities but real challenges, if we misstep – if we ignore or neglect their policy implications.
The largest ever youth generation and critically the largest ever – and growing – population over 65: These are the product of human kind's greatest achievements – the fruit of reductions in loss of life from preventable causes, of the uplift of millions out of extreme poverty; of social, medical, and public health breakthroughs that enable more of us to live longer healthier, safer lives.
Today, for the first time ever in human history, there are more persons aged 65 years and above than there are children under 5 years old.
In 1950, there were 205 million persons aged 60 years or over in the world. As we enter the next decade, there will be one billion older persons worldwide. And double that number by 2050.
By 2050, one in six persons worldwide will be over age 65, while the number of persons aged 80 years and over is expected to triple.
People are our hope, their dignity our purpose, their rights our duty and their contribution our most renewable resource. And to them, the promise that the coming decade must fulfil has already been made – not one is to be left behind. That means specifically no older person is to be left behind. The growing numbers of older people means this must be a growing priority.
Global ageing is seen wrongly as a burden on society and economy. But the research confirms that upholding the rights of older persons and investing in older persons' capacities is a game changer for their active contribution to society for longer.
This panel discussion is a very timely opportunity to reflect on in technical cooperation measures that can enhance programmatic focus and guide investments in the rights and capabilities of older persons.
Red threads that should weave throughout our discussions are worth highlighting:
Human rights are applicable to us all, whatever our age, whenever we age. The grounds for the universal guarantee of non-discrimination are non-exhaustive. Yet, as highlighted by the Independent Expert on human rights of older persons in her comprehensive report, there are normative gaps with regard to protections for older persons, including of their autonomy and independence, legal capacity, to name but a few. The consequences are unacceptable. Shocking cases of institutional neglect and abuse of older persons continue to be reported. In many societies, older persons face major protection gaps with regard to their rights to work, to social security among their other economic and social, civil and political rights. The absence of explicit references to age as a prohibited basis for discrimination in the existing international and regional instruments renders age discrimination less visible. For example, among more than 13,000 recommendations related to discrimination classified under the Universal Human Rights Index, less than 1 per cent address age discrimination against older persons. International human rights mechanisms also need to wake up to the realities of this changing world for older persons – this is an area for enhanced technical cooperation.
Indeed, a major shift is overdue – the world over - in our attitudes towards older persons. In our families and institutions, on TV screens and in cyberspace, in company boardrooms and clinical examination rooms, in our governance institutions and our participation processes – we need to fight ageism. With skills and experience built up over a lifetime, older persons make invaluable but often invisible contributions to society; unique but often unseen contributions to economies. And to waste, ignore even impede that contribution is as unacceptable as it is unwise.
The key to effective policy answers is to keep older persons at the centre; ensuring the meaningful participation of older persons in the design and implementation of technical cooperation and capacity-building, ensuring their/our passage into life's later years is paved with participation, with contribution and with respect for human rights.
Everyone should celebrate the achievement that is ageing: governments, civil society, communities, families and older persons themselves – we all should ensure each of our cultures includes and promotes the affirmation that older persons are valued, needed and important as active members of their society.
Old age is THE identity to which we all aspire – but our journey there and our time as older people should be paved with human rights and spent with dignity.