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December 01, 2017

International Developments

Charlie Sabatino

(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 39, Issue 2.)

Since 2012, the Commission has participated in the meetings of the United Nations’ Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing, supporting the official ABA liaison, currently Professor Bill Mock of John Marshall Law School. The Working Group has continued to engage in extensive inquiry and debate about whether the U.N. should pursue a separate convention on the rights of older persons, or instead, seek to strengthen the enforcement of exist­ing universal international standards as they may ap­ply to older persons. That question has remained a threshold sticking point to consensus.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. has not been a supporter of a convention. The U.S. prides itself on its com­mitment to innovation in protecting the rights and quality of life of older Ameri­cans. However, the U.S. historically has been reluctant to allow itself to be subject to any laws or rules cre­ated and enforced by non-U.S. authorities. Neverthe­less, treaties or conventions that are widely adopted by other nations really do affect the legal thinking, analyses, and practices of American law, oftentimes in profound ways. Thus, the ABA Commission has con­tinued its work despite U.S. reluctance.

The Working Group met this past July 2017, organized around two focus areas: (1) Equality and Non-discrimination; and (2) Violence, Ne­glect and Abuse. The proceedings included expert presentations on the topics, including that of Dr. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, the U.N. independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons. The meetings include interactive discussion by member states, human rights organizations, and non-governmental organizations.

Prof. Mock articulated key elements of access to justice that should form a foundation for any discussion about elder abuse, and he also reiterated his view that “it is time – indeed past time – for the international community to turn to law in protecting the world’s growing population of older persons. We need,” he argued, “an international convention that provides specific, particular, and precise protections to the world’s aging population.”

While the efforts at the U.N. continue, the Commission also sought to highlight the Inter-American Conven­tion on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons, adopted by the Organization of American States (OAS) in June 2015. The Commission introduced a resolution to the ABA House of Delegates urging the U.S. to sign and ratify the convention but agreed to defer action on it to resolve issues raised by the ABA Section of Inter­national Law. The matter will come back before the House of Delegates in 2018.

Where to Go for Further Information

For the latest on all of the above international activi­ties, see the Commission's International Rights of Older Persons Resources webpage at:­sources/international_rights_of_older_persons.html.

Photo: United Nations Headquarters in New York City, view from Roosevelt Island. By Neptuul - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Charlie Sabatino