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Human Rights and Older People


Older people as with every other section of the population have human rights as they are inherent to all human beings. To date there has been a lack of discussion and articulation of the human rights of older people in Ireland and internationally.

But as Ireland and the world ages it takes on an added importance to start this discussion. We need to improve the protection of older person’s rights so that older people can fully enjoy their human rights and so we all can continue to participate in and contribute to society as we grow old.

Please browse this section for more information about human rights, the potential for a new international Convention on the Rights of Older People and Age Action’s work on this.

What are human rights?

Human Rights are rights which belong to every individual simply because we are human beings. It does not matter what our nationality, place of residence, sex, age, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status is.

Human rights are about human dignity as opposed to simply human needs or charity and embody the basic standards without which people cannot realise their inherent human dignity.

We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination.

What is international human rights law?

International Human Rights Law refers to both European and UN international human rights instruments. It lays down obligations of governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.

Respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights.

Protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses.

Fulfil means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights.

International human rights law is primarily made up of International Human Rights Treaties and once ratified; each State must ensure that the Treaty is compatible with its domestic law. Where a mechanism has failed under domestic law in relation to a human rights abuse, an individual may rely on international law mechanisms to seek redress. Please find more information on international human rights law and mechanisms here (PDF, size 69.3 KB).

A new Convention on the Rights of Older People?

The UN has been discussing, at the Open Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWGA), the rights of older people and whether a new International Convention on the Rights of Older People should be drafted. The General Assembly at the UN established the OEWGA in 2010 and it has met once a year since then at the UN in New York. There is a current lack of consensus on whether a new Convention should be drafted. The negotiation and drafting process for human rights Conventions at the UN is very lengthy and it is not uncommon to take a decade or longer.

The Irish government’s current position is against a new Convention but they do support and participate in the OEWGA process. We in Age Action are urging them to support a new Convention. We are also calling for the participation of older people themselves in the OEWGA in order to ensure the lived experience of older people is heard and informs what is ultimately included in a Convention.

Click here for more information on the OEWGA.

Why is a Convention required?

There are nine International Human Rights Conventions or treaties. Some are universal, e.g. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights and some have been developed to address groups of people who experience particular discrimination or need particular protection, e.g. the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

However there is no Convention on the rights of older people. In addition older people are not specifically mentioned in the universal treaties and are rarely mentioned in commentary or recommendations made by the Committees established to monitor compliance with the treaties.We in Age Action think this is a clear gap in the current international human rights infrastructure that a new Convention would remedy.

A new Convention would also articulate how human rights specifically apply to older people and what measures Governments must take to comply with it. This is currently absent from the international human rights infrastructure. Articles in a new Convention could deal with, e.g.

  • Protection from elder abuse
  • Support in care settings (in nursing homes, in palliative care settings and in the community)
  • Access to social security or pensions
  • Access to age appropriate healthcare
  • Protection from age discrimination

Age Action’s work on human rights

Our policy team makes submissions under the human rights treaties that Ireland has signed up to. Ireland is reviewed, usually every 4-5 years; by a body of international experts that monitor implementation of each treaty e.g. the human rights committee is the body that monitors implementation of the ICCPR. We sometimes make submissions directly to the UN body that is reviewing Ireland and sometimes to civil society collaborations. See the submissions below.

We think it is important in engage with theses international human rights mechanisms to highlight the gaps in protection for the rights of older people in Ireland under the relevant treaties, and to hold the government to account.

We also do advocacy work in order to build support for a new Convention on the Rights of Older People with politicians and decision makers.  To that end we take part in HelpAge International’s campaign which is calling for a Convention in the Rights of Older People and are members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People. We are also an accredited NGO with the OEWGA and make submissions under this process.



Human rights and older persons working group

Age Action is members of the Human Rights and Older Persons Working Group which was set up in 2013. 

The group share a common focus on human rights and older people and focuses both on human rights law and using a human rights based approach. In December 2013, the working group launched a policy paper on Human Rights and Older People. For more information on using a human rights based approach click here

Some of our submissions on human rights and older people:

Note: Links to external websites are included on this page. Age Action is not responsible for the contents of external websites.

Age Action Awarded Investing In Volunteers National Quality Standard

Age Action is delighted to announce that we have been awarded the Investing in Volunteers quality standard. Investing in Volunteers (IiV) is the national quality standard for good practice in volunteer management in Ireland.

The Investing in Volunteers standard assesses the organisation’s volunteering programme in six areas: vision for volunteering, planning for volunteers, volunteer inclusion, recruiting and welcoming volunteers, supporting volunteers, and valuing and developing volunteers. As part of the process, we completed a self-assessment of our volunteering programme, and with the assistance of an Investing in Volunteers mentor, we then put together an improvement plan. Over the course of the assessment forty of our volunteers were interviewed as well as staff and board members.

Every year, hundreds of people volunteer with Age Action in our Getting Started digital literacy programme, and with our Care and Repair DIY Service. We would like to thank all of our wonderful volunteers who bring their time, energy and skills to Age Action and are the reason that our volunteering programme is so impactful. Volunteers are at the heart of our programmes and services at Age Action and without our volunteers we couldn’t fulfil our mission to support older people to live full and independent lives. Achieving the Investing in Volunteers quality standard shows our commitment to providing an experience that reflects how much we value our volunteers.

Here’s what some of our Volunteers said as part of the process:

‘I’ve gained a lot of skills from volunteering.  It has built my confidence in teamworking and communication.’

‘It keeps me active being able to help people and improve their quality of life’. 

‘I think they’ve got it just right with the amount of information to keep you in touch.  The monthly newsletter let’s you see what’s going on”.

“Emails keep you informed.  They are very willing to take suggestions on board, they encourage you to give them feedback’.

Going through the Investing in Volunteers process has helped us to review and improve our volunteering programme in its entirety, from how we recruit, train and support volunteers, to how we communicate with and involve our volunteers at all levels of the organisation. As we celebrate achieving the standard, we reiterate our commitment to providing the best possible volunteering experience for our volunteers who make an incredible difference in the lives of those older people we serve.