December 12, 2016
Measures to enhance the promotion and protection of the human rights and dignity of older persons

Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the
United Nations

At the Seventh Session of the Open-Ended Working on Ageing,
Item (5): Measures to enhance the promotion and protection
of the human rights and dignity of older persons

12 December 2016


Mr. Chair,

The Holy See is pleased to participate in this Session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG) and would like to thank you for your continued leadership as Chair of the Group since its very first session.

My delegation remains committed to the protection, promotion and practical realization of the human rights of the elderly, as well as to respect for their inherent human dignity. We commend the work of the OEWG since 2010 to address in a concrete way the many injustices faced by the elderly and to call attention to their social increased marginalization.

The importance of the work of the OEWG will only increase in the coming years. By 2030, the number of people in the world above 60 years of age is projected to grow by 56 percent, from 901 million to 1.4 billion. By 2050, that same population bracket is projected to double in size, reaching nearly 2.1 billion.[1] This dramatic increase in the ageing population, coupled with a rise in average life expectancy, will place a significant strain on health care systems and social safety nets. Wemust address these concerns and do so without treating the elderly as if they are merely an impending economic and social burden.

To avoid this reduction, we must recognize that dignity does not disappear with age or with a decrease in market productivity. Moreover, as a person ages, he or she normally grows in maturity and, even if the nature of one’s social contribution may change, one can still contribute much to society. In this regard, Pope Francis recently affirmed that each of us is called to commit to building a more welcoming and inclusive society, but “to do this we must counter the harmful throw-away culture that marginalizes the elderly, considering them unproductive.” The Pope encouraged all “institutions and social structures to help older people make the most of their abilities, to facilitate their active participation, [and] particularly to ensure that their personal dignity is always respected and appreciated.”[2]

Mr. Chair,

During previous sessions, it has been made abundantly clear that there is consensus on the importance of addressing the serious gaps that exist in protecting the human rights of older persons, but not on how to remedy them. Some have advocated a new mechanism like a convention or treaty, while others have spoken about ensuring that States fulfill the commitments they have already made to respect and promote the rights of the elderly in other treaties and conventions. Others have emphasized that the basis for the protection of the elderly must be found in the Madrid International Plan for Action on Ageing and in the commitments made in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Whatever form the protection of the human rights of the elderly may take, it is essential to ensure that agreed measures must be adequate to protect, respect and realize the particular human rights of older persons. Experience has shown us that treaties, conventions, conferences and declarations, while helping to build international consensus and norms, often lack the political will necessary for their full implementation. And we cannot allow our seniors to be left behind by words without follow through.

Mr. Chair,

In order to guarantee that the human rights of the elderly are respected and commitments for their wellbeing are implemented, it is crucial that such guarantees and commitments be complemented with concrete policies and programs that address the underlying root causes of the violations of their human rights and, sometimes, their abandonment.

In this regard, it is crucial to promote values and systems of education that propose an alternative approach to the “throw-away culture” of which Pope Francis speaks, which judges each human being simply by their purported usefulness. We must work collectively to help discover new ways to reaffirm and repropose the important role that the elderly play in the society and to convince everybody of the crucial place of the elderly in our families, cultures and societies.

The elderly are not only a resource but an essential point of reference at a time when many are struggling to find their identity and are uncertain of the future. Because in some places the elderly have lost their proper place in society, they can sometimes feel useless and alone. It is on this point that we must work perseveringly to educate present and future generations. This is one of the most important reasons behind intergenerational solidarity and dialogue.

Finally, Mr. Chair, it is important to remember that when we speak about ageing and elderly people, we are speaking of a class of people to which we in time will inexorably belong. The decisions we make and the work we do today will affect all of us tomorrow.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.


1. “World Population Ageing Report, 2015”, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.
2. Pope Francis, Discourse to the Members of the National Association of Elderly Workers and of Senior Italia FederAnziani, 15 October 2016.