Convention on Human Rights of Older Persons

31 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2021 Last revised: 30 Sep 2022

Date Written: September 29, 2022


Since 1948 there has been almost 20 declarations, principles, resolutions, plans of action and proclamations issued by the United Nations (“UN”) and its instrumentalities relating to aging, and the UN has identified aging as being among the most important global issues of the 21st Century; however, progress has been slow on drafting and adopting a comprehensive universal legal instrument relating specifically to the human rights of older persons. Issues relating to older persons have been integrated into the generic international human rights framework and emerging regional human rights legal systems and it has been recognized that the special circumstances of older persons should be taken into consideration when developing social and economic policies. There is also a growing consensus regarding the need for explicit recognition of the specific rights of older persons in the form of an international convention or treaty that would raise the profile of the issues, serve as a basis for action in different contexts and empower advocates and members of that group to act. In addition, making certain rights explicitly applicable to older persons reduces the likelihood that they will be overlooked in the existing generic framework of human rights instruments that generally does not refer to age but relies solely on inferences that may be ignored or lack practical authority because they are difficult to apply to contexts that are different than those for which they were originally developed.

Various arguments against and for a specific international convention or treaty for older persons have been made; however, the Covid-19 pandemic created a new sense of urgency for such an instrument given the egregious violations of the human rights of such persons during the response to the emergency including discrimination, exclusion, marginalization, violence and abuse. Several roadmaps are available for negotiating and completing a new legally binding international instrument on the human rights of older persons including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Madrid International Plan of Action on Aging, the UN Principles for Older Persons and the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of Older Persons.

Human rights advocates have grown frustrated with the pace of progress within the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Aging and urged States to stop talking and start writing to bring the project to fruition. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for accelerated development of a new normative instrument that would put the spotlight on the specificity of older persons for the enjoyment of their human rights and in addressing violations, shape policy frameworks and indicators to measure progress, provide a rallying point for stakeholders and advocacy and facilitate awareness of and sensibility to the intersectionality of rights and violations. The challenges to older persons that have been identified and must be incorporated into a new normative framework include prevention of and protection against violence, abuse and neglect, social protection, food and housing, the right to work and access to the labor market, equality and nondiscrimination, access to justice, new technologies, education, training, health support, long-term and palliative care, lifelong learning, participation, accessibility and unpaid care work.

Keywords: human rights; ageism; older persons; United Nations

Suggested Citation

Gutterman, Alan, Convention on Human Rights of Older Persons (September 29, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

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