Kiran Rabheru is a Full Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa and Geriatric Psychiatrist at The Ottawa Hospital. He serves as Medical Director of the Geriatric Psychiatry, Electroconvulsive Therapy, and the Behavioral Support Programs at TOH. He obtained his medical degree from the University of Western Ontario. He is a Certificant and Fellow of the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CCFP, FCFP). He went on to complete his specialty training in Psychiatry, subspecializing in Geriatric Psychiatry, in which he is Board Certified in Canada (FRCP) and the United States (DABPN).
He is designated as a Founder of the subspecialty of Geriatric Psychiatry by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. He is recipient of the Outstanding Achievements in Geriatric Psychiatry in Canada award by the Canadian Academy of Geriatric Psychiatry (www.cagp.ca) and has served as its President of the CAGP He serves as Chair of the Board of the International Longevity Centre (www.ilccanada.org), Board member of the International Psychogeriatric Association (www.ipa-online.org ), and Chair of the Section of Positive Psychiatry of the World Psychiatric Association (https://www.wpanet.org/). Dr. Rabheru was honoured to be elected as Chair of the Steering Committee for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People (https://rightsofolderpeople.org), a network of over 380 members from over 80 counties worldwide, united in the work to strengthen and promote the rights and the voice of older persons globally.
Ageism – The need for a convention on the rights of older people
Craig Mokhiber is an international lawyer and specialist in human rights law, policy, and methodology who has spent four decades in the international human rights movement, including thirty years at the United Nations. He is currently Director of the New York Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has held senior UN positions in Geneva, New York and in the field, and has undertaken human rights missions to dozens of countries across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Latin America. He has served as the UN’s Senior Human Rights Advisor in Palestine and in Afghanistan, he led the team of human rights specialists attached to the High Level Mission on Darfur, headed the Rule of Law and Democracy Unit, and served as Chief of the Economic and Social Issues Section, and Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch at OHCHR Headquarters. He was for five years the Chairman of the UN Task Force for Action Two (a global initiative to advance national human rights protection systems), and later Chaired the UN Democracy Fund consultative group, the UN Working Group on Leadership, the UN Consultative Group on Inequalities, and the Steering Committee of the UN Human Rights Mainstreaming Fund. He has led several initiatives aimed at integrating human rights into the work of the UN itself. Craig Mokhiber has lectured and taught human rights, has authored several publications on human rights themes, and has served on the Secretariats of the World Conference on Human Rights (1993), the Commission on Human Rights (1995), the Working Group on the Right to Development (2001), and the World Summit (2005). He represented the UN human rights office in the LDC-IV Conference in Istanbul in 2011, the UN working group on the human rights of older persons since 2012, Rio+20 in 2012, the UN Sustainable Development Summit in 2015, the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants in 2016, and the UN Conference on Migration in 2018. While on leave from the UN in 1999, he led a global study on human rights and rule of law reforms, on behalf of the International Council on Human Rights Policy. Before joining the UN, he worked as an NGO activist, a human rights advocate, and a lawyer in private practice.
Margaret Gillis is the founding President of the International Longevity Centre Canada, a human rights based organization which is part of a global alliance of 16 Centres dedicated to the needs of older people. An award winning executive and innovative leader, Margaret played a key role in establishing the Age-friendly Community program in Canada and internationally. Other career highlights include a joint government-NGO project to protect seniors in disasters which was recognized by Her Majesty the Queen.
Margaret has strong credentials in regard to human rights, working with and speaking at the UN General Assembly on behalf of older people and as Canadian Delegate to the Organization of American States, Institute for Children. She is currently the Chair of the National Advocacy Working Group at the Global Alliance on the Rights of Older Persons and has been actively working for a United Nations Convention on the Rights of Older Persons in Canada and internationally. With a background in health promotion, protection and programming, Margret is committed to improving the rights of older people.
Margaret holds a BA in History (Queen’s 81) and a Master’s in Public Administration (Carleton 82).
Originally from Spain, Dr Vânia de la Fuente-Núñez is one of two lead authors of the first UN Global report on ageism and manages the Global Campaign to Combat Ageism at WHO. Vânia also drives capacity building efforts on ageing in countries and regions.
In this capacity, she has led the development and delivery of the first leaders programme on Healthy Ageing. Vânia is a physician who first joined WHO in 2014 and who has worked with different NGOs and research institutes in both high and low-income countries, including Switzerland, Spain, Senegal, and the Gambia. Vânia holds an MD from the University of Santiago de Compostela; an MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics of Health from University College London; and is now completing a BA in Social and Cultural Anthropology.
De la Fuente, V.
Kiran Rabheru, International Psychogeriatric Association (IPA), Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People (GAROP), ILC-Canada, Professor of Geriatric Psychiatry, University of Ottawa, Canada
Craig Mokhiber, United Nations, United States of America
Margaret Gillis, International Longevity Centre (ILC) Canada, Canada
Vânia de la Fuente-Núñez, World Health Organization, Switzerland
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in devastating consequences on older persons, laying bare decades of human rights violations against them, globally. They have been subjected to violence, abuse and neglect, deprived of social security, essential health care as well as essential supports they need to live independently in a safe environment to enjoy their lives. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) global report on ageism published in March 2021 states that one of every two people are ageist against older people. Ageism, discrimination based on a person’s age, is a key driver of human rights violations against older persons. Ageism, along with often concomitant mentalism, or discrimination based on a person’s mental health condition, and ableism, or discrimination based on a person’s disability creates a triple jeopardy for older persons. Repeatedly combined with other prejudiced factors, such as gender, marital and socioeconomic status, amplifies the discrimination, and accumulates over time rendering older persons to feel invisible, obsolete, and humiliated. This deplorable situation has created an urgent ethical, moral, and legal imperative to establish effective ways to enhance and protect the human rights of older persons.
This symposium focuses on the need for a United Nations (UN) convention on the rights of older persons to combat ageism by providing a universal framework with an ethical, moral and legal lens. This convention would compel states to scrutinize all policies, procedures, theories, education, programs, laws, raise public awareness and ensure culpability. It would mandate states to adopt non-discriminatory laws against older persons and improve surveillance through the obligatory collection of relevant data on older persons, which in turn, would help with fairer allocation of resources. Stricter reporting and accountability mechanisms with respect to older people would provide a redress mechanism for violations related to the rights of older persons, nationally and internationally.
Existing human rights laws do not adequately protect older persons’ rights. This has been made undeniably clear by their horrendous experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, incontrovertible evidence exists of current UN Conventions on women, children, and persons with disabilities, being highly effective at positively influencing the lives of recipients. A UN convention would empower older persons as rights holders, educating all on how to protect, exercise, and enjoy their human rights. A UN convention would act as an anti-discriminatory tool to challenge negative stereotypes and enforce the view of older people as valued persons possessing knowledge, power, wisdom, and experience.
Presenters #1, Craig Mokhiber
From pity to power: Toward a convention on the human rights of older persons
The devastating impact of the COVID pandemic has laid bare the vulnerable situation of older persons in society. Populations everywhere are aging. As they do, the evidence indicates that, for many, aging is increasingly an experience of exclusion, marginalization, deprivation, and abuse. In this context, the legal and policy framework, at both the national and international levels, is wholly inadequate to address the situation, needs, and rights of older persons. Calls are growing for the adoption of an international convention on the human rights of older persons. Such a treaty would help empower older persons everywhere to claim their rights in the civil, political, economic, and social spheres. It would help provide accountability for duty-bearers, empowerment for rights holders, protection for the vulnerable, a platform for global advocacy, and a crucial vehicle for solidarity. Most importantly of all, it would help bring about a paradigm shift in in approaches to aging, moving from charity to rights, and from pity to power.
Presenter #2, Margaret Gillis
The spectrum of ageism and mentalism: Expressions of dual jeopardy
During the pandemic Canada had the dubious distinction of having highest death rate in long-term care among OECD countries, a skyrocketing increase in elder abuse and clear transgressions of the right to health, among other rights violation. This speech will examine what happened in Canada during the pandemic, how a Convention on the Rights of Older Persons could have addressed those rights violations and efforts by civil society to advocate for a Convention.
Presenter #3, Vania de la Fuente Nunez
UN Global Report on Ageism
The UN Global report on ageism was launched on 18 March 2021, providing the first report of its kind and compiling the best evidence on ageism from around the world. The Report was led by WHO in collaboration with OHCHR, UNDESA and UNFPA and it outlines what strategies work to prevent and counter ageism. These include policies and laws, educational interventions and intergenerational activities. In this symposium, specific focus will be given to the role of legislation and policy in reducing ageism against all age groups, providing an overview of how this strategy works, its effectiveness and those factors that can potentially make it more effective. Attention will also be given to future priorities for the design, implementation and monitoring of policy and law across countries, including the need to increase international legislative guarantees against age-based discrimination. In this context, the work of the UN Open-ended working group on ageing will be brought into focus, as it is the primary forum for debate on the development of an international human rights treaty or convention regarding the rights of older persons and has been advancing this work since its establishment in 2010.
Presenter #4, Kiran Rabheru
Enough is enough: Levelling the playing field for older people’s human rights
Ageism is not a new phenomenon. It is exceedingly malignant, prevalent, and destructive to the dignity and well-being of individuals and societies. Decades of neglect and abuse due to societal ageism, laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, has created a perfect storm in which older people have perished and suffered disproportionately. A concerted global effort is needed to ensure the protection of human rights of older persons. An international legal instrument is urgently needed to promote and protect the rights and dignity of older persons. There is no clear articulation in any of the United Nations human rights treaties of the nature and significance of ageing, its social construction and the phenomenon of ageism. The existing human rights framework is fragmented and inconsistent in its coverage of human rights of older persons in law and practice. This presentation will focus on some of the key gaps and barriers that prevent older persons from the enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Possible interventions on a national and global level will be discussed, along with a call for action for a United Nations convention on the rights of older persons.