Literacy and Definitions
Human Rights? | What are the Rights of
Older People? | The rights of older people
are rarely addressed | What is a Convention?
| What is a Human Right Convention? | What is a Treaty? | What does it
mean to ratify a Treaty or Convention?
First of all it’s necessary to look at what we mean by human
• Human rights are the rights people are entitled to simply because
they are human beings, irrespective of their
o Or abilities
• The ideas when these inherent rights are respected, people are able
to live lives of dignity and equality that are free from discrimination
• This concept of human rights has developed over time and has it
origins in a wide range of philosophical, moral, religious, and
• There is no one, single historical narrative charting the evolution
of rights to the understanding we have of them today. Instead the
current concept of rights is an amalgamation of different religious,
moral, philosophical, cultural, legal, and political belief systems.
This is very important because it gives rights their universal
• Human rights are valid universal claims regardless of whether they
are officially recognized in law or not. The law and the state do not
grant human rights. Instead the law provides a system that codifies
human rights and makes them enforceable; International treaties,
regional charters and national constitutions and legislation recognize
and articulate human rights within a legal framework of government
obligation and system of redress for violations.
• Human rights are often divided into categories: civil, political,
economic, social and cultural.
What are the Rights of Older People?*
• A person’s human rights do not change as a person reaches 60 years
old or are considered to be old by other social or cultural markers.
• You have the same rights when you are 59 as you do when you are 60.
• So when we talk about the rights of older people we are not talking
about anything new or different.
• However, due to the ageing process throughout the life course, some
rights may have more pertinence in old age than at other times in
someone’s life for example, the right to social security in the form of
a pension once your working life is over.
• Men and women experience ageing differently so we also need to be
mindful of the gendered nature of ageing and the impact this has an
older woman and men’s rights.
• In addition, the presence of age discrimination also means that
although a younger woman or man may not experience the violation of a
particular right, for example access to health care, when they are
younger, as they get older, they may find that right is less protected
– for example there may be fewer health personnel trained in
age-related illness to treat them, or they may no longer be able to get
access that health care because they can’t walk as far as they used to
get to the nearest health centre.
• The rights of older persons predominantly addressed are access to
health, social security, violence and the right to life, liberty and
security of person, discrimination/ageism, rights related to living in
care homes, property and inheritance and food security.
• As populations age and demographics change, there may well emerge
other and new types of discrimination that older people are subjected
The rights of older people are rarely
But despite the fact that older people have the same rights as everyone
else, this rights perspective or analysis is rarely made. This is
important as it has wide ranging implication:
• Age discrimination is not considered as unacceptable as sexism or
racism or homophobia or discrimination against disabled people.
• Older people remain invisible in the human rights discourse and the
violation of their rights is not considered with the same seriousness
as other groups, rights violations against whom is now widely accepted.
For example when the Human Right Council in Geneva examines the rights
record of Member States under the Universal Periodic Review system, the
rights of children, women, disabled people, ethnic minorities and
indigenous peoples are all regularly addressed. Older people’s rights
• Older people also often remain ignored in legislation, policies,
programmes and budget allocation designed to link various rights eg in
health policies or in inheritance legislation.
• And when older people are addressed, a welfarist approach is often
taken: they are beneficiaries, recipients of help and not rights’
holders with legitimate political and legal claims on those who have
the obligation to uphold their rights.
What is a
A Convention is a treaty, usually
of a multilateral nature. It is a written document adopted by Member
States of international organizations such as the UN for their own
Example: Geneva Convention, an international agreement
first signed in Geneva in 1864, and later revised, governing the status
and treatment of captured and wounded military personnel and civilians
a Human Right Convention?
A human right convention is an international legally binding
instrument for Member States that sign and ratify it. A State becomes
party to a treaty by ratifying it—State voluntarily decides to be bound
by the provisions of the relevant treaty. When a State becomes a party,
it is obligated under international law to uphold and implement the
provisions of the treaty. The legislation of the State party must be in
conformity with the provisions of the treaty and cannot contradict it.
Once the Human Right convention is ratified by the Member State, the
human rights convention is adopted and has the status of "pacta sunt
servanda"—Pacts must be respected”.
What is a Treaty?
A Treaty is an international
agreement in writing between two states (a bilateral treaty) or a
number of states (a multilateral treaty). Such agreements can also be
known as conventions, pacts, protocols, final acts, arrangements, and
general acts. Treaties are binding in international law and constitute
the equivalent of the municipal-law contract, conveyance, or
legislation. Some treaties create law only for those states that are
parties to them, some codify pre-existing customary international law,
and some propound rules that eventually develop into customary
international law, binding upon all states (e.g. the Genocide
What does it mean to ratify a Treaty or
It is a confirmation of an act.
In international law—the approval of a treaty, usually by the head of
state (or by the head of state and legislature). This takes place when
documents of ratification are either exchanged or deposited with a
named depositary. Normally a treaty states expressly whether it will
bind a party as soon as it is signed by that party's representative or
whether it requires ratification.
* Source: Bridget Sleap, HelpAge