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Intervention of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Conference on Human Rights of Older Persons in long-term care, Brussels

for Brussels, 8 October 2014

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the first United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, I feel extremely honoured to address you on the occasion of this important event on Human Rights of older persons in long-term care. I should like to express my sincere gratitude to the European Commission and the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions for the invitation and regret that I am not able to be with you in person.

Currently, Europe has the oldest population of all regions. By 2050, it is expected to reach 236 million. This represents an increase of 34 per cent.

There are many challenges that need to be faced in order to ensure a life of dignity for all older persons, especially those in need of long-term care. As our societies continue to age, States will have to solve the complex equation of a rising demand for long-term care, which will lead to increasing costs for social protection systems and families, while ensuring adequate access to high quality care and support for formal and informal carers. States will also have to take action in order to put an end to abuse, violence and discrimination against older persons, especially while they receive long-term care.

There is not yet an accepted universal definition of the term “long-term care”. However, according to General Comment No. 14 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it is important to adopt an “integrated approach, combining elements of preventive, curative and rehabilitative health treatment”. Hence, long-term care should encompass a wide range of services and assistance for older persons who require help with daily tasks and who are in need of medical and social care on continual basis. Such services include homecare, private residence, and private/public institutional care.

According to the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, adopted by the General Assembly, in 1991, older persons should be able to enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms when residing in any shelter, care or treatment facility, including full respect for their dignity, beliefs, needs and privacy and for the right to make decisions about their care and the quality of their lives. States have to adjust their current social and health policies to the needs of older persons, including services that take into account gender, disability, dementia, and HIV. Older persons are right-holders and should be able to exercise their rights in all circumstances. Their voice and choice should be heard.

A human rights-based approach for older people in long-term care, particularly when applied in social and healthcare systems will enable us to combine efforts and so maximise the benefits available to older persons. It will also increase the human rights protection for older persons in long-term care.

In this connection, I commend the European Union and the Council of Europe for their work in raising awareness of this important issue. For instance, the joint report of the European Commission and the Social Protection Committee, and the project on Human Rights of Older Persons in Long-Term care, are positive initiatives that have been undertaken at the regional level.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In order to solve the equation, this issue of long-term care should also be seen from another perspective.

It is important to prevent older persons from becoming dependent on long-term care. To do so, States should promote active and healthy ageism, age-friendly environments, autonomy and active participation in all aspects of society. States should also improve detection and early identification of disease, especially dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’ disease in order to minimize and help prevent dependency. Access to health services should also be improved by providing for those living in rural or in remote areas.

In addition, States should strengthen their habilitation and rehabilitation services and programmes, in order to maintain maximum independence and autonomy of older persons. In this context, much more should be done regarding the use of, and access to, technology, education, employment, transport, and housing.

All of these measures will help to prevent or delay the need for long-term care. Older persons have much to contribute to our societies.

According to resolution 24/20 of the Human Rights Council, which established this mandate, I have been requested to identify both best practices as well as gaps in the implementation of existing law related to the promotion and protection of the rights of older persons. In addition, I have been tasked to raise awareness of the challenges faced in the realization of all human rights by older persons, and to ensure that older persons receive information about those rights. In the exercise of my mandate I will address the multifaceted aspects of care of older persons as one of my priorities. For that, we will have to overcome one important challenge: the lack of data and analysis of the effectiveness of policies.

Therefore, I will need the support and cooperation of everyone, including States, the United Nations system, regional organizations, such as the European Union and the Council of Europe, non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, the private sector, care institutions, health professionals, the academic sector, organizations for older persons and of older persons, caregivers and older persons themselves.

I hope that at the end of the event, new initiatives will be followed as part of an ongoing effort to strengthen the protection of all human rights of older persons.

I want to finish, by mentioning the words of Simone de Beauvoir “One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, compassion.” Those words should inspire our work towards ensuring a dignified life for older persons.

I thank you very much. 

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