With “entrenched ageist attitudes” already undermining the autonomy of elder persons in making their own choices and decisions, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus further violence, abuse and neglect against them, a UN independent expert said on Monday, marking World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
“Distressing reports from care homes in different parts of the world showed neglect, isolation and lack of adequate services, including healthcare, social and legal services”, said Claudia Mahler, independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights of older persons, in her message for the day, marked annually on 15 June.
Lockdown measures to control the virus have resulted in increased gender-based violence, abuse and neglect of older persons confined with family members and caregivers.
Despite widespread alarm over this situation, the challenge of seeking effective solutions, has received little attention, according to the human rights expert.
“Some disturbing practices were reported with care homes being given immunity from civil liability for COVID-19 related deaths and putting in place contractual clauses that waive the right to file a court case, and make arbitration the only option for alleged abuse or mistreatment”, said Ms. Mahler.
Elsewhere, older persons and their families expressed despair and frustration over the lack of transparency and responsiveness to complaints raised with aged care services providers.
The UN expert said that this undermines their access “to justice and to an effective remedy”, stressing that the dignity and rights of the elderly “do not have an expiration date in later life”.
Access to justice encompasses the right to a fair trial, equal access to and equality before the courts, and just and timely remedies for human rights violations.
Lack of detailed information and analysis “limits the possibility to reveal patterns of abuse”, which remain vastly under reported, and “determine the gaps in existing interventions”, as well as to “identify concrete action needed to provide adequate protection to older persons”, said the independent expert.
“Older persons must not be left behind when seeking redress and remedies”, said Ms. Mahler, urging States to “adopt a binding international human rights instrument, as well as national legislation and measures, to ensure access to justice for older persons with full respect of their autonomy”.
The instrument should include the provision of legal aid, counselling and support services, age-appropriate formats to share information on rights and complaints mechanisms and improved accessibility.
Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.