Volume 15, No.8 - August 2011

Feature articles

Protecting human rights of older persons


The world’s population aged 60 or older is expected to double by 2050, to a record of 21 per cent – representing two billion people. Member States are expressing concerns about the status of older persons revolving around their social and economic situation, their participation in development and their relationship to human rights.

There is a call for increasing the visibility on the world agenda on the issue of human rights protection for older persons. In December 2010, the General Assembly established an open ended working group open to all Members States of the UN with the purpose of strengthening the protection of the human rights for older persons and identifying possible gaps and how best to address them, including more instruments and measures (resolution A/RES/65/182).

Furthermore, the aim is to perceive older persons as active members of society and not only recipients of charity and welfare. It should also be noted that at age 80, women outnumber men by two to one, and are the most vulnerable, facing more social stereotypes, participating less in society and benefiting from fewer available opportunities.

While there is a prevailing culture aimed at youth, older people have gone through a progressive exclusion and marginalization. This has led us to a situation, where there is no specific instrument which relates to the human rights of older people. What exists refers to the universal human rights treaties that do not include older people as a specific segment of society.

Another important gap to be covered with respect to the rights for older persons, refers to the social security coverage. This would worsen in the future if no action is taken; estimates predict an increase of the percentage of older persons living in less developed countries from 63% to 78% by 2050.

Consensus on concerns, but not on the response

Its first working session concluded on 21 April 2011, following a four-day series of panel presentations and discussions on the current situation of the human rights for older persons. Expert panelists from different backgrounds, experiences and origins, analyzed the existing international and regional human rights framework and mechanisms, offering information about recent developments and identifying a number of gaps in the protection systems.

The session showed agreement among Member States, NGOs, UN agencies, intergovernmental organizations and independent experts about the specific human rights challenges faced by men and women as they grow older, pointing out that there is no specific instrument devoted to this segment of the population and few existing instruments have explicit references to age.

Concerns were raised about the age discrimination, neglect and violence, and in response, the empowerment of older persons was observed as a central dimension in constructing their human rights and their participation in development.

Some delegations, experts and NGOs stressed the importance of a dedicated binding instrument that would offer effective protection to older persons, including immediate obligations with regard to non-discrimination and guarantees of non-retrogression of all protected rights.

As a conclusion, there were several proposals in response to the voice of concern around the rights of older persons; including a new international convention on the human rights of older persons and a special rapporteur to study and report on the situation of older persons. Other measures mentioned were effective monitoring of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA), more effective implementation of existing instruments, strengthening national data collection, desegregation and update and improving national monitoring mechanisms.

Addressing more specific issues and rights

The second working session will take place in New York on 1-4 August and will focus on more specific issues and rights. There will be panel discussions and interactive dialogues on the following topics that appear consistently and repeatedly around the world: discrimination and multiple discrimination, right to health, violence and abuse, social protection, age and social exclusion.

In addition, there will be several side events organized by NGOs on topics such as “Disability Rights, Access to Palliative Care, and Lessons from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities process”; “The right to health: in conversation with older people”; and “violence against the elderly”.

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Education for all at top of ECOSOC’s agenda


Gathering world leaders, UN agencies and a record number of participants representing civil society and the private sector from around the globe, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has worked hard for the past month focusing on some of the most pressing challenges facing the world today.

“The world is in danger of sleepwalking through one of the greatest injustices of our times. Despite all the promises to the world’s children – the pledges made and targets set by the international community – today nearly 70 million children are denied a place at school,” said Gordon Brown, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, at the opening of ECOSOC’s High-level segment taking place in Geneva on 4-8 July.

He continued: “So for me it is absolutely essential that we build on recent successes of getting many more millions of children into school through smart aid and debt relief. And it’s essential too that national governments do their bit to make sure that all children, rich and poor alike, have a chance at getting an education, just as Western Cape Province has done so successfully in South Africa”.

The high-level segment was chaired by the President of the Council Lazarous Kapambwe, Permanent Representative of Zambia. Numerous ministers, together with other high-level officials, prominent speakers, several heads of UN agencies and over 1,400 participants from civil society and the private sector attended the meeting.

It focused on the Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) with the theme “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to education”. The 2011 AMR emphasized the catalytic effect of education on the broader development agenda, including poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals. The meeting also offered an occasion to galvanize political support for the fundamental role of education in support of sustainable development for the upcoming Rio+20 Conference.

Ministerial Declaration adopted

The 2011 ECOSOC Ministerial Declaration was adopted, addressing educational access, quality, funding, partnerships and the challenges in achieving the internationally agreed education objectives, as well as issues related to secondary and tertiary education, information technology and lifelong learning. While not specifically reflected in the Declaration, several speakers expressed strong support for establishing a global fund for education to mobilize resources, and strengthen the global partnership to accelerate progress towards the 2015 education goals, with a specific focus on educational access, equity and quality.

“The Declaration is a model document in other ways, too. It navigates the considerable education challenges of the moment, while casting a thoughtful eye to emerging issues on the horizon – areas like secondary and tertiary education, information technology and lifelong learning,” stated Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General of DESA.

National presentations, innovation fair and panel discussions

National voluntary presentations were given by the Ministers of Education from 11 countries, offering country-based information on success factors in working to achieve education for all, quality education and other education objectives. Several high-level interactive panel discussions were held on a broad range of education, economic and social development issues.

An Innovation Fair ran throughout the week, offering a wealth of information on practical initiatives to advance education and development. The UN postal administration also launched the second series of six ECOSOC stamps on the theme “Education for All”. A series of Ministerial roundtable breakfasts and side-events also took place.

Discussions on achievements on gender issues

The Coordination Segment on 11-14 July focused on two main themes: the follow-up to last year’s Ministerial Declaration on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and the follow-up to the Conference on Financing for Development.

The Council heard for the first time the views of the whole UN system on progress achieved in the gender field, a year after the decision by the General Assembly to establish UN Women. A panel discussion, moderated by the Executive Director of UN Women Michele Bachelet, discussed the leadership role that UN Women is called to play in promoting coordination, coherence and accountability of the UN system in this field, which does not relieve other entities of their commitments to gender equality goals. Another panel discussion focused on combating gender-based stereotypes that contribute to perpetuate discriminations in all spheres of society.

The Council adopted two resolutions: one on the mechanisms to promote system wide gender mainstreaming; and a second resolution focusing on progress made by the system in the 8 cross-cutting issues identified by the Council in its 2010 Ministerial Declaration.

Global economic governance in the focus

On Financing for Development, the discussions focused on global economic governance, particularly the role and effectiveness of the UN system and the need to forge institutional linkages between the G20 and the UN. The Council also addressed the specific needs of Least Developed Countries and considered how financial support mechanisms and South-South cooperation can contribute to tackling the development challenges of these countries.

In addition, in a resolution entitled “Recovering from the World Financial and Economic Crisis: A Global Jobs Pact”, the Council encouraged the full use of the Global Jobs Pact as a framework for enhanced and coherent policy measures in the area of decent work. It also requested the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of the Pact by the UN system to the ECOSOC AMR of 2012, which will be devoted to productive capacities, inclusive growth and employment.

Moreover, the Council discussed the annual overview report of the UN system Chief Executive Board for Coordination (CEB) and it also had a special meeting to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the right to development. This meeting provided an opportunity for the Council to interact with the human rights pillar of the UN, as both the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the President of the Human Rights Council took part – an unprecedented encounter in the history of ECOSOC. The discussions showed how much the development and the human rights agenda are interconnected and called for advancing them both in a collaborative manner.

Call for implementation of Management and Accountability System

In the 2011 Operational Activities segment on 14-18 July, Member States and UN representatives focused on expectations for the 2012 quadrennial comprehensive policy review (QCPR) of the General Assembly; progress in strengthening the UN Resident Coordinator system; and ways to strengthen the architecture of funds and programmes through the definition of “critical mass” of core resources. The Executive Heads of the funds and programmes also discussed future challenges and opportunities facing their entities.

Member States adopted a resolution calling for immediate action by UN entities to implement the Management and Accountability System of the Resident Coordinator system; strengthening of links between UNDAFs and agency-specific programming documents; and review of existing funding modalities in support of the Resident Coordinator system. It also provides guidance to the Secretariat for preparations for the 2012 QCPR of the GA.

The latest DESA report on funding of UN operational activities for development provides detailed analysis of core and non-core contributions and expenditures for the year 2009, as well as long-term trends. Moreover, the report provides for the first time an analysis of country programmable resources of the UN development system. Prior to the 2011 Operational Activities Segment of ECOSOC, DESA released a funding update on estimated core and non-core contributions for the year 2010.

Reaffirming the importance of humanitarian principles and coordination

“Working in partnership to strengthen coordination of humanitarian assistance in a changing world” was the theme of the Humanitarian Affairs segment on 19-21 July. It consisted of two panels, one on ensuring that the humanitarian financing system is predictable, effective, accountable, flexible and adequate to meet the evolving needs and challenges for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and the other on strengthening resilience, preparedness and capacities for humanitarian response.

Twelve side-events were organized by humanitarian and development partners. The Council also decided to hold a special meeting on the humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa. The main outcome was the adoption by consensus of a resolution which reaffirmed the importance of humanitarian principles and humanitarian coordination. It also made considerable progress within the normative field, reaffirming the opportunities from continually engaging in inter-governmental discussions.

Other issues of significance include the addition of language on commemorating 20 years of General Assembly resolution 46/182, calling for the ERC “to lead” efforts to strengthen coordination, encouragement to Member States to cooperate with OCHA, a reference to safe access to fuel and firewood and other basic humanitarian services, a revised paragraph on improving funding and several references on working with local and national levels in preparedness and response.

Meeting the needs and challenges of assistance delivery

As in previous years, OCHA/PDSB organized two formal panel discussions and coordinated several informal side events, which were well attended and featured presentations by high-level government officials, UN agencies, the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, the private sector, academia and NGOs.

The first panel on “Preparing for the future – predictable, effective, flexible and adequate humanitarian financing and its accountable use to meet the evolving needs and challenges for the delivery of humanitarian assistance” stressed the need to systematically fund preparedness measures and better address the transition from emergency relief to recovery and development. However, more emphasis should be put on mobilizing new and innovative resources and to promote effective, predictable, flexible and adequate funding through enhanced partnerships and strengthened mechanisms.

At the session on “Strengthening resilience, preparedness and capacities for humanitarian response”, participants converged that more needs to be done to improve support to regional, national and local partners in improving their preparedness enabling them to respond to humanitarian needs. While this needs the buy-in of national and local government, partnerships need to be built at the international level to support these efforts – including with UNDP, the World Bank, regional organizations, the private sector as well as individuals.

Member States and the UN pledges assistance to Horn of Africa

Due to the growing humanitarian emergency in the Horn of Africa, the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the ECOSOC Vice-President for Humanitarian Affairs decided to hold an ad-hoc special event. After the presentations, appeals for solidarity and urges for swift action to address the humanitarian needs in the region were made by Valerie Amos, Cheik Diarra (Special Advisor on Africa), Antonio Guterres and Kristalina Georgieva (EU Commissioner). Member States and UN agencies expressed solidarity and commitment and offered assistance to those affected by the crisis.

Please note that this article was written when the General segment was still in session, why it has not been covered in this story. For more information on this segment including reports:

For more information:

High-level Segment:

2011 Annual Ministerial Review:

ECOSOC Ministerial Declaration:

National Voluntary Presentations:

ECOSOC Innovation Fair:

United Nations postal administration:

Coordination Segment:

Operational Activities Segment:

Humanitarian Affairs Segment:

General Segment:

Urge to invest more in young people


“The Facebook generation is showing a growing resolve to change our world – and a capacity to make things happen. They are bringing their energy and courage to some of the most difficult issues we face,” said the UN Secretary-General at the opening of the High-level Meeting on Youth on 25 July.

With the theme “Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding”, the meeting was held as part of the International Year of Youth. It is expected to result in a call for strategies to give young people everywhere a real chance to find decent work and urge countries to take effective measures to protect young people from terrorism.


UN news story:

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