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Resolution to Protect the Family subverts human rights principles and dilutes the rights of older persons

A group of states (Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, El Salvador, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Uganda) have recently tabled a resolution at the 35th session of the UN Human Rights Council entitled, “Protection of the Family: Role of the family in supporting the protection and promotion of human rights of older persons.”

Its unfortunate that a resolution purportedly about the rights of older persons completely fails to address the key issues affecting older persons.

As the Independent Expert on the human rights of older persons recently stated, and the World Health Organization highlights, elder abuse remains prevalent worldwide and “older persons are often at risk from members of their own family.” Yet the resolution neither addresses this central concern nor concretizes actions to be taken to prevent abuse within families.

HRC 35 - home screen (610x470)
© UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré | Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Tabaré Vazquez ( left ) President of Uruguay with Joaquim Alexander Maza Martelli ( right ) President of the Human Rights Council at a 35th Session of the Human Rights Council. 6 June 2017.

Previous ‘protection of the family’ resolutions purported to enhance the rights of children and persons with disabilities, but their content invisibilized the violence and coercion suffered by both groups within family contexts and undermined their autonomy. This current resolution on the family similarly focuses on older persons but operates to weaken their rights framework overall, and older women’s rights in particular. 

The limited focus on ‘protection and assistance’ reinforces ageist stereotypes of older persons as inherently vulnerable, requiring assistance from others. It limits the scope of their lives to the family and fails to recognise that older persons can develop their full potential in a wide range of living arrangements and areas of life.

The resolution fails to adequately recognize older persons as individual rights holders entitled to autonomy and self-determination, with the right to choose where and with whom to live, to live independently and to choose who provides care and support and in what setting. Neither does the resolution address the right of older persons to informed consent and to make autonomous decisions about medical treatment including end of life care and refusal of treatment to prolong life.

In short, the rights of older persons are sadly absent from a resolution which purports to be about older persons.

As with previous resolutions on this theme, this regressive text seeks to center ‘the family’ as an institution in need of protection rather than concerning itself with the rights of all family members. It fails to acknowledge that, unfortunately, human rights abuses occur within families - including abuse of older persons, marital rape, child abuse, FGM, dowry-related violence and other forms of domestic violence. It fails to acknowledge that harmful and discriminatory practices and patriarchal oppression and traditions can also be perpetuated in family contexts, with women and girls of all ages disproportionately subject to rights violations.

Further, the resolution fails to recognize that various forms of family exist everywhere. Without such recognition, it cannot be assured that the ‘family-oriented’ policies referred to in the draft resolution will address the needs of all family members in all families.

This resolution is part of an effort to subvert the aims of our human rights system and the universality of rights, and is about the protection of systems of power, concentrated in the hands of the few.

Action Required

The core group of states leading on this resolution have rejected inclusion of language that seeks to address the above key points.

Our action is necessary to protect the fundamental principle, upheld in the Vienna Declaration, that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.

Please consider call, fax or email your relevant government ministry by 21 June 2017 urging them to reject the text. Feel free to use the arguments outlined above. 

  • It is important for all States to reject the resolution.
  • It is particularly important that voting members of the Human Rights Council be contacted to reject this resolution. A list of Council Members can be found here.
  • For Council resolutions the most important contact is usually your government’s Foreign Ministry.
    See contact details for the Foreign Ministry of each country
  • It is also helpful to send a copy of any correspondence to your country’s Ambassador or Permanent Representative in Geneva. 
    See a list of Permanent Missions in Geneva

We look forward to hearing from you and hope you can participate in this urgent action. 

Please get in touch with Bridget Sleap, HelpAge International ( or Naureen Shameem, AWID ( if you have any questions.

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