12 December 2016, New York – Statement delivered by Johan ten Geuzendam, European Commission Directorate of Equality, DG Justice and Consumers, at the United Nations General Assembly Open-ended Working Group on Ageing on Item 5: Measures to enhance the promotion and protection of the human rights and dignity of older persons
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Thank you Mr. Chair,
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the EU and its Member States.
The EU welcomes the holding of the seventh meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing. Let me express our thanks to the Bureau, to our colleagues from Argentina, and to the United Nations staff for their preparations of this session.
The situation of older persons, and the protection of their human rights, is high on the agenda of the European Union and its Member States, many of whom are experiencing significant population ageing. The EU is keenly aware of the difficulties faced by older persons, and of the need to do more to ensure that they enjoy their human rights. As in previous years, we look forward to actively engaging in this session of the Working Group, including the panel discussions and the interactive dialogue. In April of this year, as part of the EU campaign #EU4HUMANRIGHTS, Slovenia hosted an international conference about the human rights of older persons with the participation of the Independent Expert and a range of experts from governments and civil society. Our Slovenian colleagues will share more information about the conference later this week.
I would like to update you on some recent steps that have been taken by the EU in the field of ageing and the improvement of the situation of older persons in EU Member States.
The relevance of protection of older people against age discrimination in employment continues to grow due to the demographic changes in Europe. In response to this, EU governments have implemented a series of measures, coordinated at EU level first under the Lisbon strategy and now under the European Semester. We have succeeded in increasing the employment rate of older workers (55-64) significantly — from 38% in 2002 to over 53 % in 2015, and it is expected to increase further.
There are many intersections between age and disability; therefore implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is of great importance. Disability prevalence in the EU is much higher among people aged 65 or over, 54%, than among under 65s , at 18%. In the implementation of the CRPD it is important that more attention is paid to the human rights of the large group of older persons with disabilities.
Another important initiative this year has been the preparation of a package of European Commission initiatives to address the challenges of work-life balance faced by working families. The key objective is to modernise the current EU legal and policy framework to improve access to care facilities, family leave and flexible working arrangements, and to increase female labour market participation.
Our commitment in this area is also illustrated by a number of recent events.
In June of this year, the European Commission organised a conference in Brussels on fighting elder abuse in health and long-term care, on the occasion of the 11th World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, together with the Council of Europe, AGE Platform Europe and the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions.
In September, the European Parliament hosted an event on the occasion of the UN International Day of Older Persons that included an update on recent developments at the OEWG. The event focused on the fact that the human rights of all individuals in Europe, including older persons, are protected by various binding international and regional human rights conventions, discussed the possible need for any new instrument, and looked at actions that could be taken at EU level to promote the rights of older persons.
The second European Summit on Innovation for Active and Healthy Ageing was held in Brussels just last week, from 5-8 December 2016. The event looked into how digital innovation will “Transform the future of health and care in Europe“ and aimed to develop a shared-vision on how the Digital Single Market can turn demographic change into an opportunity for social development and economic growth in Europe.
We warmly welcome the adoption of the decision on the participation of National Human Rights Institutions in the work of the OEWG, and we thank you again for your work on this. NHRIs play a crucial role in upholding human rights, including those of older persons, and we believe they will make a valuable contribution to future OEWG sessions.
Indeed, the European Commission supports a project implemented by the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions on The Human Rights of Older Persons and Long-term Care, which runs from January 2015 to June 2017. The aim of the project is to improve the human rights of older persons in long-term care, with particular emphasis on residential care. A Pilot Group of six European NHRIs carried out intensive monitoring within their jurisdictions, based on the human rights standards and the report of monitoring methodologies of NHRIs. They each drafted national reports, setting out their findings and recommendations. The final report on this project will become available in the first half of next year, and we will inform you on its findings at the next session of the OEWG.
We very much look forward to the interactive discussions, including the presentation tomorrow of the report of the Independent Expert. The EU fully supports the work of the Independent Expert and calls on all member states to cooperate with the Independent Expert in the discharge of her mandate. We also look forward to exchanges on regional initiatives and multilateral process, and on the follow-up to General Assembly resolution 70/164. The protection of the human rights of older persons requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders, including civil society organisations, and we welcome the strong CSO participation in this session.
Since the last session of the OEWG, we have seen the adoption of Agenda 2030, which recognises the human rights of persons of all ages, and it is important for us to recall that our discussions here fall into a wider effort to mainstream the human rights of older persons in development and social policy and throughout the work of the UN.
With regard to the specific mandate of the Working Group, the EU would like to recall that the whole spectrum of internationally recognised human rights standards and principles also cover and protect older persons, without discrimination. The current international framework addresses many of these issues in a comprehensive manner — for example in the areas of health, social security, violence and discrimination, through, inter alia, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. In this Working Group we need to focus on the steps that can be taken to strengthen the protection of human rights for older people, and we look forward to taking part in an open discussion.
I will conclude by reiterating that the EU looks forward to a productive session, and we are committed to maintaining our constructive engagement in the deliberations of the Working Group, with the aim of achieving tangible progress in the realisation of the human rights of older persons.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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