The importance of the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons’ entry into force

The first convention on the rights of older persons, approved by the OAS on June 15th last year, is an instrument that seeks, as stated in its first article, “to promote, protect and ensure the recognition and the full enjoyment and exercise, on an equal basis, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of older persons, in order to contribute to their full inclusion, integration, and participation in society.”

Around these days thanks to a second ratification by Uruguay, the Convention will enter into force within the inter-American system of human rights, according to the general dispositions established in the seventh chapter of the Convention.

The steps taken to reach this moment go way back, with America taking the pioneering role in the matter of older persons’ rights. Argentina played an essential role in the implementation of the Convention, along with Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Brazil. Maria Isolina Dabove, a renowned expert on Elder Law and a member of Argentina’s official delegation to the OAS, shared this and other points with my fellow students and me last week at a training and research seminar hosted by my university.

She told us how important the approval of the Convention is and how it will help improve the conditions of millions of older persons in all OAS member countries. This is because the implementation will mean that all the rights protected in the Convention will be recognized and ensured directly to all habitants of ratifying countries. It means, as Dabove said, that judges and justice workers will be compelled to give primacy to everything established in this Convention, over all other national laws.

We could ask ourselves why do these rights need an international protection? In other words, why is a Convention needed?

The older person is subject to vulnerability. This vulnerability is due to the biological decline that comes as a consequence of being in the last stage of their lives. This biological decline gives way to multiple risks for economic and social exclusion and discrimination, such as the ones described by Dabove: loneliness, loss of self-confidence, identity crisis, physical and cognitive deterioration, grief for the loss of loved ones, the nearness of one’s own death, as well as abandonment, mistreatment, and abuses or violence committed by caregivers and others.

Representatives of the OAS took all these circumstances into account when writing the Convention.

It is important to point out how the Convention assures the full effectiveness of these rights. To this purpose, the third chapter describes how the States Parties are expected to safeguard these rights and lists general duties to this end. The specific duties of the State Parties are listed in the fourth chapter, where we find the protected rights. Indeed, the first part of each article of this chapter explains a right, with a second part explaining how will the State Parties will ensure and protect it. The sixth chapter describes how two bodies will be created in order to follow up on efforts to protect the rights. Furthermore, the document also establishes the system of individual petitions, which empowers any person or group of persons to “submit to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights petitions containing reports or complaints of violations of the provisions contained in this Convention by a State Party” (Article 36).

The Convention seeks not only to address the juridical vulnerability suffered by older persons, but also social and economical vulnerabilities. In view of this holistic approach, the fifth chapter seeks to raise awareness about these rights within states and society at large. State Parties are expected to promote a “positive attitude to old age and dignified, respectful, and considerate treatment of older persons, (…) to disseminate and promote the rights and empowerment of older persons, and avoid stereotypical images and language in relation to old age” and to “promote recognition of the experience, wisdom, productivity, and contribution to development that older persons offer society as a whole.”

From all this, we can see how advantageous the Convention’s entry into force within the inter-American system will be. It will mean supporting older persons in their integrity, in a delicate balance between protection and recognition of autonomy and self-fulfillment on equal basis with others.