The UN Open-Ended Working Group on Aging (OEWG) was established by resolution at the 2010 General Assembly and represents significant progress toward the advancement of human rights.
HelpAge International is a member of the working group, which meets annually at the UN headquarters in New York. At the 9th working session this past July, the working group focused on two important areas: 1. Autonomy and independence and 2. Long-term care and palliative care. These issues were brought to life through the voice of older people, captured in HelpAge's report Freedom to Decide.
At these sessions, HelpAge and our advocates speak out about the right of older people to equality and non-discrimination. We hope that the Working Group can lead to a Convention on the Rights of Older People. See our infographic below for a brief history of major human rights achievements, and how a convention on the rights of older people could be the next landmark treaty.
A number of Member States, particularly from Latin America, have been pushing for a discussion at the UN on older people's rights and the possibility of human rights mechanisms on the rights of older people. Setting up this working group enables that discussion to take place.
The Working Group’s main purpose is to strengthen protection of older people’s rights. The goal of the working group is also to develop a UN Convention on the rights of older people, a treaty that provides a global framework for protecting the rights of older people. It will legally protect older people's rights, clarify government responsibilities towards older adults, and improve accountability in policymaking.
An international convention is a legally binding document that has been negotiated, agreed upon, adopted, signed, and ratified by individual countries, i.e. UN Member States. Once the UN Member State has ratified a human rights convention, it is obligated to report regularly to the relevant UN treaty body established to ensure compliance with the Convention. Examples of existing treaty bodies include the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which oversees implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Individuals and groups in ratifying Member States can bring complaints with the treaty bodies at the international level when their human rights have been violated.
Not all Member States agree that we need a Convention on the Rights of Older People, and many member states do not show up to the working sessions. The working group, however, has a wider mandate than just discussing a convention. It examines the implications of population aging on the international framework of human rights, identifying gaps in human rights protections and solutions.
Attention to older people's rights by governments, those working on human rights and NGOs has been woefully inadequate. The OEWG is the first time a process has been set up for UN Member States to examine and explore how to better protect older people's rights.
The OEWG is a working group of the UN which is made up of Member States and so any Member State of the UN can participate in the OEWG. The resolution that set up the working group specifically invites civil society organizations to contribute. Civil society has a critical role to play in informing the work of the OEWG and advocating for it to address the issues that older people say are critical to them. Too often the voices of older adults go unheard in debates on issues that directly affect them.
Although the OEWG meets in New York, Member States' UN Mission staff take their instructions on policy positions from their governments in capital cities. The most effective way to influence government positions is to provide information on older people's rights and mobilize civil society to advocate at a national level.
How civil society organizations can advocate for older people's rights:
Read our case for why action is needed now to protect the rights of older people. Read our 10 Reasons Why.
Read about the UN resolution and the OEWG.
How you can help
Advance the well-being and inclusion of older people around the world.