UDHR 75 – Writing the next chapter for human rights in Wales
10 December 2023 marks 75 years since United Nations members from across the world voted to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which details our basic rights and fundamental freedoms, stating that these are inherent, inalienable and applicable to all.
This groundbreaking document laid the foundation for international human rights law, and has inspired a wide range of treaties, human rights instruments and domestic legislation, including the European Convention on Human Rights and, subsequently, the UK’s own 1998 Human Rights Act.
This provided the basis for further legislation to establish several key specialised bodies and organisations – including establishing the role of Older People’s Commissioner for Wales – with a range of statutory powers to scrutinise the work of governments and public bodies, and examine whether they are fulfilling their duties to uphold people’s rights.
This is crucial, not only to protect and support individuals, but also to enable change at a societal level, which is why protecting and promoting older people’s rights continues to be one of my core priorities as Commissioner.
It can be easy for us to take our human rights for granted as they may not seem to feature prominently as part of our day-to-day lives. So, understandably, we often do not fully appreciate their importance until we find ourselves in a position where our rights are under threat.
The pandemic illustrated why human rights are so important, as well as highlighting the particular risks we may face in terms of our rights as we get older, when we may find ourselves in greater need of services and support.
For example, we saw potential breaches of people’s rights to liberty, and to respect for private and family life, enshrined in Articles 5 and 8 of the Human Rights Act, with many older people living in care homes facing significant, prolonged restrictions and being unable to have face-to-face contact with loved ones, in some cases for many months, despite restrictions easing elsewhere in society.
It’s why I worked with the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Wales to scrutinise the decisions and actions of the Welsh Government regarding care homes. I then established a UK group of experts to work together to strengthen the rights of older people living in care homes and ensure that they and their families know and understand their rights and are able to exercise them. This includes practical action – producing a guide to rights for people living in care homes, copies of which have gone to every care home in Wales.
Understanding our human rights and the legislation that is there to protect us, is particularly important in times of crises, such as the pandemic, and in our fast-changing world.
For example, using my legal powers as Commissioner I issued formal guidance to health boards and local authorities setting out the action they should be taking to ensure that older people can access information and services in a digital age. This guidance sets out people’s rights to access information under the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act. It demonstrates the practical application of these conventions and laws to uphold older people’s rights.
Over the last few years we have had to cope with the challenges of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, and the consequences of the pressures in public services. We have also seen the damage and suffering caused by ageist attitudes and discrimination against older people. This is the time when we need greater awareness and more action to ensure that human rights-based approaches guide the delivery of our public services to help protect us from ageist attitudes and discrimination.
So alongside identifying what can be done here in Wales to better protect and promote older people’s rights – which could include human rights legislation specific to Wales or a Bill of Rights for Older People – we also need to consider the role that action at an international level, such as a UN Convention on the Rights of Older People, could play in driving forward the human rights agenda.
That’s why on 1 February 2024 I will be hosting a webinar to explore how human rights can be realised in older people’s everyday lives, and the levers available, within Wales and more widely, to embed human rights throughout policy and practice.
By bringing together older people, rights experts and other stakeholders, I want to inspire participants to think differently about older people’s rights, and encourage the development of new approaches and practices – both at a strategic and operational level – that have human rights at their heart.
For more information about the Commissioner’s webinar, or to book your place, visit: https://forms.office.com/e/vpHtxK0hhg