Press Releases

    12 April 2002


    (Received from a UN Information Officer.)

    MADRID, 11 April -- Among the issues raised at the Second World Assembly on Ageing as it continued its general exchange of views on the fourth day of its work this morning were the situation of older people in the occupied Palestinian territories, the impact of the market economy in countries in economic transition and the importance of learning from and preserving the respect for older generations in more traditional societies.

    A call for international action to alleviate the suffering of all Palestinian people, including the elderly, was made by the representative for Palestine. The collective punishment which the Palestinian people had suffered had negatively affected the entire population, but the highest price has been paid by the elderly, she said. A number of other delegations expressed similar concerns.

    "We must not permit this Assembly -- like so many other international conferences before it -- to be hijacked by those with a narrow and hostile political agenda", Israel’s representative said. It was also important to remember that the perpetrators of vicious acts of terrorism -- and especially those who had targeted innocent civilians with suicide bombers -- had claimed victims among the elderly.

    Lithuania’s Minister for Social Security and Labour said the period of economic and social changes that followed the disintegration of the Soviet Union had been particularly difficult for the elderly, who could not adapt to the opportunities offered by the new market economy. As a result, many older persons had begun to feel socially excluded. The representative of Latvia also described the situation of the elderly in the circumstances of transition and her country’s efforts to correct this through recent pension reform.

    The Minister of State, Elderly and Disability Affairs of Uganda said that the case for developing countries, specifically in Africa, warranted urgent measures to cater for the aged. Among the factors that made older persons particularly vulnerable in Africa were socio-economic changes, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, poverty and poor infrastructure. The needs of each individual were of equal importance and must be made the basis of planning for societies, however. Her country was striving to change the image of the elderly and allow them to participate in all aspects of society.

    In that connection, the Secretary of State for Cooperation and Development of Belgium said that treating older persons as a separate category led to disrespectful solutions. There was nothing more degrading for society than pictures of old-age homes where older people lived out their days in isolation from society. A society must respect the great human capital older people constitute. The countries of the South could teach many lessons as far as respect for the older generation was concerned. It was better to humbly learn, rather than try to give lessons on that issue to the more traditional societies.

    The declaration of the NGO Forum, which took place in parallel with the Assembly on 5-9 April, was presented by its Co-Chair, who said that the Forum had called for an elaboration of a convention to eliminate all forms of discrimination against older persons. Among other recommendations contained in the text were the creation of an agency within the United Nations specializing in issues related to older persons and measures to ensure dignified ageing at home, integrate the elderly into societies and improve social policies worldwide. The Forum also proposed a council of senior citizens, which should promote peace and international communications on the subject of ageing.

    Also speaking this morning were the Ministers and Deputy Ministers from Slovakia, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Algeria and Colombia, as well as representatives of Monaco, Ireland, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Statements were also made by the representatives of United Nations Volunteers, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University and the President of the Union Democratica de Pensionistas of Spain.

    The Assembly will continue its work at 3 p.m. today.


    EDDY BOUTMANS, Secretary of State for Cooperation and Development of Belgium: The wealth of the world is to be found in its memory, which comes from experience. Experience, in turn, comes with age. Throughout history, human societies have been aware of this, valuing their elders. In modern culture, however, youth is valued as an absolute value. This is quite obvious in such spheres as modern advertising, for example. Ageing is a demographic trend, which will increasingly influence societies. We have to ensure the ability of all age groups to live in harmony.

    Treating older persons as a separate category leads to disrespectful solutions. There is nothing more degrading for society than pictures of old-age homes where older people live out their days in isolation from society. A society must respect this great human capital. A longer life increases the number of older persons who want to continue to play an active role in society, and it is important to provide them with the means of participating. The ageing society is forcing us to re-evaluate our approaches to older people, ensuring that they can flourish. In the workplace, for example, it might be a good idea to alternate periods of work and leisure during an individual’s life.

    The issue of ageing is closely connected with the development of social services, and other appropriate policies. Specific measures need to be adopted to deal with the problems of disabled older people. It is the duty of governments to correct the inequalities that exist, ensuring the dignity of the elderly. The participation of grass-roots organizations is also essential. Poor countries cannot provide all the services that the developed countries can. This leads to the marginalization of the weaker. The countries of the South can teach many lessons, however, as far as respect for the older generation is concerned. We must humbly learn, rather than try to give lessons on this issue to the more traditional societies.

    PETER MAGVASI, Minister for Labour, Social Affairs and Family of Slovakia: Social policy in Slovakia is based on a broad consensus that all persons should participate in and take responsibility for their own fate. As broad increases in life expectancies are becoming a worldwide norm, we have begun to focus such policies and initiatives on ensuring longer, healthier and more full lives for our people, as well as ensuring a dignified old age. We are aware that the swiftly changing social situation will depend to a large extent on how we develop strategies aimed at ensuring social solidarity, including health-care programmes, employment and social services. We also consider the family very important and have worked to strengthen family life and social participation.

    The Government adopted a national programme for protection of older persons in 1999. That document contains a set of initiatives and follow-up and monitoring by State agencies. The generally recognized notion that there is a break between productive and non-productive segments of life will have to change as world populations continue to age rapidly. We are trying to achieve a certain level of integration between all age groups to ensure active and productive ageing. Ensuring less strict divisions between generations will be necessary in the coming decades. Finally, we are extending every effort to make the slogan "society for all ages" a reality within Slovakia.

    HEDI M’HENNI, Minister of Social Affairs of Tunisia: Today, we are called upon to adopt a world strategy that will take into consideration the demographic, economic and social changes that have taken place worldwide over the past few years. States need to adopt clear policies, taking into account the recommendations of various international summits organized by the United Nations since the early 1990s, especially the Social Development Summit and the Millennium Summit, aimed at reducing the differences between nations, keeping in check economic and social crises and combating diseases and epidemics, especially AIDS. The eradication of poverty is another important goal.

    The Secretary-General’s report before the Assembly shows that developing countries will be simultaneously confronted with challenges related to development and a constant increase in the proportion of elderly people. This will require them to entrench and reinforce the rights of the elderly as an integral part of human rights; that we provide them with protection and health, social and psychological care; and that we encourage the elderly to continue to contribute to society as reliable and competent providers of expertise.

    The care for the elderly is an easy matter for secure and stable States, but it is indeed an arduous undertaking for countries living under the yoke of occupation, or those torn by armed conflicts. The ongoing atrocities in the Palestinian occupied territories perpetuated by Israel, including oppression and mass killings, contradict basic human rights and ignore the sufferings of children, women and older persons.

    Tunisia’s policy in the area of care for the elderly stems from a strong political determination founded on the enduring principles of a bond between generations, abidance to Arab and Moslem values and meeting the requirements of older people. National legislation for the elderly has been in place since 1994. Among other measures, it envisions support for volunteer families to host elderly persons, as well as for private-care institutions. Mobile multidisciplinary units have been set up to provide urgent and efficient health and social intervention for the elderly closer to their homes, when needed.

    IAN McCARTNEY, Minister of State for Pensions of the United Kingdom: In the United Kingdom, there are around 19 million people aged 50 and over, who account for 40 per cent of the adult population. By 2020, the population of 50 plus people will have increased by a further three million. We are determined to respond positively to this age shift in our population. We want to ensure that our older citizens can enjoy secure, active, independent and fulfilling lives.

    We believe that later life should be a time of increased and diverse opportunity, not stagnation, isolation, poor health, poverty and loss of self worth and self esteem. We aim to give people real choices in later life. These choices include working longer, engaging in new pursuits or hobbies, engaging in lifelong learning and participating in community activity. We recognize the importance of working positively with older people to shape policies and services to meet their many and varied needs. We have set up successful partnerships between central and local government, the voluntary sector and older people as part of our Better Government for Older People programme. At the heart of the United Kingdom’s approach are person-centred care and services that allow older people to maintain their independence and make real choices about their living environment. We have set up a National Service Framework to focus specifically on the health and care needs of older people.

    I hope this Assembly and the International Plan of Action will be of particular help to developing countries, who are facing significant challenges. It will help us all to understand the real problems they face. Each country will need to find its own solutions, but I believe we can and should learn from each other.

    VILIJA BLINKEVICIUTE, Minster of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania: The issue of ageing is of great importance to us. The growing number of older persons constitutes a significant segment of our society. Due to the decline in the birth rate, we have witnessed negative population growth since 1994. Twelve years ago, Lithuania entered a complicated period of economic and social changes. This period has been particularly difficult for the elderly, as many of them had no chance to adapt themselves to the opportunities offered by the new market economy. As a result, many older persons began to feel socially excluded.

    Realizing that the success of social reforms depends on whether all the people of our country see real and positive changes in their lives, Lithuania has made significant advances towards creating a society based on the principle of equal opportunity for all ages. While most of our actions have done much to alleviate some of the problems our older communities are facing, our overall policy scheme needs to be further developed. Therefore, we intend to enhance our national strategies relating to employment, health care and social services, all in the interest of promoting a society for all ages. Further, we will ensure that our policies take gender into account, assuring equal opportunities for all.

    When establishing our policies for older persons, we realize that it is necessary that they reflect input from members of our elderly communities. Their voices must be heard. Decisions on their behalf should be taken together with them. We consider the financial sustainability of our pension system to be of the utmost importance and we intend to establish a fully funded tier of our national pension scheme to complement the pay-as-you-go programme already in effect. This will go a long way towards ensuring full-fledged participation of older persons in social life long after they have retired. Creating adequate policies to avoid the social exclusion of older persons is also an important goal of our Government. Overall, we realize that the skills and experience of our older persons constitutes a significant part of our national wealth and we will continue to see that our older generations live full social, cultural and political lives.

    ALVARO PATINO PULIDO, Vice Minister of Labour and Social Security of Colombia: Despite the fact that we do not have a specialized national policy on ageing, my country has been developing various actions to address the issues of older people. We are contemplating introducing training programmes for care providers and have introduced a programme on employment issues. Dissemination of information and promotion of healthy lifestyles are on the Government’s agenda. We are also adopting preventive policies against family violence. Several free education programmes are offered to the elderly, and measures are being taken to improve the pension system and social support for them.

    We do not have any policies directly supporting the needs of the elderly as far as housing is concerned, but efforts are being made to meet the basic needs of the neediest citizens. The goal is to mobilize efforts to turn the elderly into active players in society with the help of specific programmes of humanitarian care and rehabilitation. Together with the public and private sectors, we want to develop an effective national policy, which would enable us to provide a holistic response to the needs of the older people and improve the services provided to them. The programmes should include such aspects as housing, employment, productivity, social security and protection. To achieve that, we need more resources to expand pensions, create additional employment opportunities and to take care of indigent older persons. Among the initial steps taken by the country are formulation of policies for 2002, strengthening of pre-retirement programmes, increased social security coverage and the creation of a national commission for the promotion of the rights of older persons.

    FLORENCE NAYIGA SSEKABIRA, Minister of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development in Charge of Elderly and Disability Affairs of Uganda: The twenty-first century is witnessing an unprecedented transition from high birth and death rates to low fertility and mortality. Already the majority of the world’s older persons, 61 per cent, live in developing countries, a proportion that will rise to nearly 70 per cent by 2025.

    Unlike our friends from developed nations who have already institutionalized mechanisms and support systems for older persons, the case for developing countries, specifically in Africa, warrants urgent measures to cater for the aged. This is more apparent in Africa due to a number of factors that make older persons vulnerable. These include the following: socio-economic changes have weakened the ability of the family to perform its responsibilities, to the disadvantage of older persons; HIV/AIDS is greatly affecting older persons, who are expected to look after the sick and perhaps later assume responsibility for the orphans; poverty eradication programmes have not focused on older persons to the extent that the elderly are unable to meet their own needs, as well as those of their grandchildren; health services are insensitive to the needs of the elderly and the principle of cost-sharing further disadvantages them; with the restructuring of economies in the world, there is no right to employment, and older persons are the victims of this process.

    The last population and housing census report of 1991 put the number of people aged 60 or more at 4.11 per cent of the population, and this is expected to increase. The Government has come to appreciate the predicament of older persons, and is doing its best to ensure that they are catered for as well as any other segment of the population. The needs of each individual are of equal importance and must be made the basis of planning for societies. We are striving to change the image of the elderly and allow them to participate in all aspects of society.

    HERZL INBAR (Israel): Examination of the developed world’s policies makes it clear that there is a tremendous lack of knowledge among the public at large and even among professionals about ageing and appropriate care. Society has failed to effectively apply social and medical models with respect to understanding and reducing dependency. Different countries display a huge diversity in their approaches to the care of the elderly, and a unified model for national systems is yet to emerge.

    National policies relating to the aged in Israel are based on the need to promote older persons’ independence and autonomy; empower the consumer; increase older people’s right to participation and representation; and maintain their active roles in society. Other principles relate to promoting equality among the elderly, providing an adequate standard of living in old age; and maintaining inter-generational partnerships and mutual responsibility. Attention must be paid to inter-generational equity in the allocation of resources. Other elements of policy include encouraging children to be responsible for financing the care of the elderly, and using the media to change the negative attitudes and stereotypes towards the elderly and ageing. The Government’s recent actions include the adoption of the national health insurance law; extension of women’s mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65; efforts to expand services to the growing Arab elderly population; and expansion of professional and academic training and research in gerontology.

    We must not permit this Assembly -- like so many other international conferences before it -- to be hijacked by those with a narrow and hostile political agenda. Those who use this podium to attack Israel instead of focusing on the real issues of this Assembly should ask themselves what their own countries have done to further the needs of their ageing populations, as well as other parts of their society, instead of wasting their resources and energies on policies that are based on hatred and violence against Israel. We must also remember that the perpetrators of vicious acts of terrorism, and especially those who have targeted innocent civilians with suicide bombers, have claimed victims among the elderly. Among the Israeli civilians murdered at the hands of ruthless killers, more than 50 were people over the age of 60. Last month alone, terrorism claimed the lives of 25 elderly Israeli citizens, some of them survivors of the Holocaust some 60 years ago. In a gathering like this, and indeed, nowhere in the world, should their murderous criminal approach be given any legitimacy whatsoever.

    JACQUES L. BOISSON (Monaco): At the dawn of the new century, increases in life expectancy, rapid urbanization and population ageing have changed the way the international community approaches issue related to older persons. The effects of these transformations have been most exemplified by the situation of older persons living on the African continent. We should particularly focus on the affects these sociological changes will have on the elderly populations in Africa, where widespread poverty and underdevelopment continue to overshadow many aspects of their lives. We must make their lot a priority. Africa is, after all, the cradle of civilization and we cannot continue to let the collective memory of humankind -- our African elders -- suffer under the conditions that exist today.

    With longer life expectancies and improvements in health care and medicines, our older persons will continue to find ways to play an active role in society and fulfil their destinies. This is a destiny that we owe to them as they have provided us with the wealth of experience and history from which we all benefit today. In Monaco, we have instituted a series of measures to address many of the problems associated with growing older, including health concerns, fears of isolation and other issues exacerbated by lack of access to basic services. We must bear in mind, that like all people, elderly populations must be allowed to exercise not only their civil and political rights, but their social and economic rights as well. To that end, an international instrument ensuring the rights of older persons could be envisaged as one of the follow-up mechanisms to this Assembly.

    Most of the recommendations of the draft Plan of Action will be shortly implemented in Monaco. They will be carefully examined to ensure their early implementation. The percentage of our elderly population is forecast to continue to increase in the coming years. While our Government works to ensure that those older persons continue to participate in their communities, civil society actors and volunteers have also done their part, particularly in assisting with home care, food deliveries and planning social activities for persons with reduced mobility. We have enhanced our hospital facilities and have established many private clinics. Much has been done for older persons in Monaco, but we realize that many obstacles need to be overcome. We are certain that the outcome of this Assembly will contribute to our national efforts.

    DJAMEL OULD ABBAS, Minister of Social Action and National Solidarity of Algeria: Since the First World Assembly, the world has experienced great upheavals in all areas of social and economic activities. As a result, we have been forced to take action to meet the challenges facing the world today. Among those challenges is the ageing of the world population. International cooperation and the participation of all levels of society are of great importance for tackling the problems that arise.

    The problems associated with globalization often put the vulnerable groups of societies, including the elderly, in special peril. Africa is one of the regions where older people suffer from the consequences of the economic problems encountered by their societies. One cannot remain silent over the tragic conditions of the Palestinian people who are struggling for their fundamental rights. The most elementary rights of the Palestinian people are being denied. We must condemn Israeli policies and practices, for it is not only the young people, but also older people who are being victimized. We must put an end to this humanitarian disaster.

    In Algeria, the problem of the ageing of the population is becoming more evident. Older people are receiving attention from the State, which is setting up mechanisms to provide material and moral support to them, so that they can take an active part in the life of society. In our society, older people are respected and venerated for their wisdom, but the modern world can affect the traditional balance. For this reason, we are protecting older people through legal guarantees. We believe in inter-generational solidarity, and these principles are deeply rooted in our traditional and cultural beliefs. We have set up a national plan of action for older persons that envisions increased social protection, health services and care for the elderly.

    HUSSEIN MAJED (Lebanon): In compliance with the international strategy and recommendations set by the First World Assembly on Ageing, the Lebanese Government has decided to establish a permanent national commission on the elderly, with primarily advisory functions, acting as an executive arm of the Ministry of Social Affairs. My country also participates in regional efforts to address the issue of ageing.

    As one of the Arab countries that continue to suffer from the repercussions of the Israeli occupation, we believe that the sufferings of the Palestinian people represent unjustified genocide and a violation of their human rights. Those of the elderly in Palestine and in my country, who survived the massacres and remained outside of prisons, are in the vanguard of those who are defending their dignity, their honour and their land. Arab Lebanon -- the Muslim and Christian Lebanon, which embodies peace and love -- entreats this Assembly to call for the establishment of a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East in accordance with relevant resolutions. Each and every human being deserves life without discrimination.

    Our national agenda on ageing focuses on the implementation of a needs-assessment study on the status of the elderly people in Lebanon and creation of a sound database. Among the activities of the national commission are the organization of seminars, conferences and media-oriented programmes dealing with the problems faced by the elderly. The commission has also declared a national grandparents’ day, which is observed every year in June. A steering committee was formed in order to follow-up with the ministries involved in the care of senior citizens. The Ministry of the Interior has asked all municipalities to submit plans of action on medical and social services for the elderly. Several projects are being developed to respond to the priority needs of the elderly, and legislation is being formulated to improve their situation.

    DECLAN O’DONOVAN (Ireland): As a developed country, the relative youth of Ireland’s population -- we are graying, but some 45 per cent of our population is still 25 years or younger -- has been highly important to our recent and sustained economic growth and our rapid transition from a largely agrarian society to one that now has the ability to take advantage of advances in new information technologies. The lengthening of the average lifespan in Ireland over the last 50 years has changed the way we look at all aspects of our social existence, including childhood, marriage, health and leisure activities.

    The way we perceive lives shortened by malnutrition, disease, lack of development or war has also been affected. We can now see even greater disparities in the human condition throughout various regions of the world. Because of the improvement in our economy during the mid-1990s, Ireland has been able to significantly improve the lot of older people in a broad range of areas, including health, social security and housing, among others. While we have made significant steps towards establishing a health policy for our older persons, which aims to keep them active and living in their own homes as long as possible, we fully accept that a lot more remains to be done. The recently published health strategy, "Quality and fairness -- A Health System for You", sets out actions which will be taken in the area of services for older people. These include proposals on long-term financial care, improved eligibility and assessment, ensuring an integrated approach to ageing, improved support for informal caregivers and providing thousands of extra spaces in day-care centres. Social insurance and contributory old-age pensions have been increased by nearly 50 per cent over the last five years. This is well ahead of increases in the cost of living and increases in average earnings. A new Pensions Act has been passed and it will now be easier for people to take out private and occupational pensions to ensure their future. Our Government greatly values our older people and stands ready to support the Political Declaration that is under consideration by the Assembly.

    TALAT H. ALWAZNA (Saudi Arabia): The First World Assembly on Ageing placed emphasis on a Plan of Action on behalf of older persons throughout the world. We now seek to complement, enhance and strengthen those commitments. Our Government provides care to all of our citizens, particularly older persons. We provide for their security and dignity, based on the precepts of Islam and traditional Arab cultural values. The percentage of older persons in our country now stands at about 4 per cent and is expected to quickly rise to 7.9 per cent. We extend every effort to meet the needs of our older persons and to provide them with adequate health care, medical services and social activities.

    We recognize what our elderly populations mean to us -- they are significant part of our national wealth. We include older persons in national development projects so that we can make full use of their experiences. We also ensure that they take part in community and volunteer activities. All our policies aim to ensure the place of older persons within their families. We also take advantage of their life experiences to inculcate religious values within families. This will help unite families and allow older persons to live better lives. We also seek to provide material support to older persons once they have retired so that their needs can be met. Our Government provides a pension for retired civil servants and retired military. Our social security system covers retired professionals as well as all older persons who have never worked. We provide health care through clinics, including care in specialized hospitals when necessary. We have also established elder-care homes for those that are unable to remain in their own homes.

    We believe in a modern, integrated and holistic approach to ageing that will ensure independence for persons of all ages and ensure that proper social care is provided for all age groups. As this Assembly is about to adopt a revised Plan of Action and Political Declaration, it is critical to consider the situation of older Palestinian people, as they are powerless and have no recourse to address what was being done to them through Israeli aggression. We, like other delegations participating in this conference, condemn what is being to done to them and all Palestinian people and we hope that the outcome of the Assembly will ensure the rights of older persons throughout the world.

    GUNTA ROBEZNIECE (Latvia): Due to historical circumstances, Latvia did not participate in the First World Assembly on Ageing in 1982, and the decisions made in Vienna did not significantly influence the life of the Latvian people. Under the old social system, little attention was paid to the integration of older people into society. A new system, based on decentralization and individual responsibility, is now being introduced in the country.

    Latvia’s demographic situation has worsened following the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the country’s transition to the market economy. Up to 20 per cent of the population belong to the elderly group. Tobacco, drugs and alcohol abuse, as well as physical inactivity, remain among the problems encountered in the country.

    To improve the situation of the elderly people, Latvia has decided to move towards a radical shift in the pension system. One of the main goals is to reverse the upward trend in pension expenditures and make the pension system affordable to following generations. Following the reform, people are able to make contributions towards their retirement throughout their working years. A number of years of projected life expectancy is taken into account when calculating the amount of payments. The pensions are directly connected to the number and amount of contributions to the pension fund made during an individual’s working years.

    SORAIA BARGHOUTI, representative for Palestine: As a result of the grave deterioration of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, we deeply regret that we have not been able to give you first-hand information about the situation in which our people live, particularly the elderly. This is truly saddening, as our older populations and all our people continue to live under the tyranny of Israeli occupation. Those actions are being committed in total contravention of international humanitarian law and, most significantly, the many resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. We call on the international community to intervene to urge Israel and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to put an end such savage practices.

    In order to help older persons in developing countries, it is imperative to review policies and priorities at both the national and international levels in order to ensure continued assistance to them and to promote their full inclusion and participation in the development of their communities. The people of Palestine have been living under the harsh conditions of brutal Israeli occupation for nearly 35 years now. Since September 2000, Israel, the occupying Power, has intensified its bloody military attacks on the Palestinian people living in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, resulting in the killing of more than 1,200 Palestinian children, women, men and elderly persons. While the collective punishment which the Palestinian people have suffered -- including forced detention and curfews -- has negatively affected the entire population, the highest price has been paid by the elderly. Those persons have been deprived of all fundamental rights and dignity and have been forced to walk long distances under perilous conditions and have lost access to even basic necessities such as food and water. The most critical situation is in Palestinian refugee camps.

    We can do little to help the situation of our older persons as the occupying Power has paralysed any and all development and implemented a military rule which has suspended regulations governing civil society and social activity. In short, Israel has destroyed everything that we have built with your support. But even in the face of such intolerable conditions, the Palestinian Authority has been striving to create the foundation for a State framework that balances the duties and rights of its citizens. The most significant ministry created under the Authority’s initiatives has been the Ministry of Social Affairs, which focuses great attention on the situation of the elderly. By the year 2025, the total number of Palestinians over 65 will constitute an estimated 10 per cent of the population. The Ministry provides care to all persons in need, including the elderly, and is working to implement various initiatives on their behalf, including promoting and strengthening the role of the family to enable older persons to care for themselves, and establishing mobile health service to reach older persons in need wherever they are.

    In all this, we call on the international community, the United Nations and the donor community to bear their responsibilities towards all our people, including the elderly, in order to alleviate their suffering. We call on global actors to establish an international force to provide protection for the Palestinian people until Israel fully withdraws from the occupied Palestinian territories.

    SHARON CAPELING-ALAKIJA, Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers: There is nothing new about volunteering. Many older people in all cultures, far from withdrawing from participating in society, continue to contribute actively to their communities by volunteering through programmes led by NGOs, governments and the private sector. Many older people are actively engaged in voluntary action through mutual aid activities. Volunteering makes a vital economic and social contribution to society.

    Lately, there has been acceptance of the need to approach voluntary activities strategically, as a means of enhancing resources, addressing global concerns and providing opportunities for all groups of society to participate. This acceptance has received particular impetus during the recently celebrated International Year of Volunteers. I am pleased to note that the draft Plan of Action on ageing, builds upon last December’s General Assembly resolution on volunteering by recognizing the need to empower older persons to fully participate in the life of their societies, including through volunteer work. This recognition was absent from the first International Plan of Action.

    The draft also makes an explicit point that voluntary activities in the community represent one of the areas where older persons make valuable contributions. The text expands on the General Assembly recommendations on government support to volunteering, with special emphasis on older persons. The International Year of Volunteers was a watershed in the ways volunteerism is perceived by all sectors of society. It is with satisfaction that we note how governments here are building on the momentum created by the International Year.

    JUAN MANUEL SUAREZ DEL TORO RIVERO, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: It is clear that the global phenomenon of ageing will affect every person, every country and every aspect of our daily lives. The issues of health and social welfare, including the problem of HIV/AIDS, as well as of migration, are among the challenges now facing the world.

    HIV/AIDS is the biggest health disaster in the world today, affecting the lives of millions of people and threatening the very survival of whole countries. The pandemic has a massive impact on the lives of older people. It is crucial that we recognize the vital role of older people in the fight against the disease -- particularly caring for sick children and orphaned grandchildren. The challenge faced by the volunteers of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and many other civil society actors, is to ensure the quality of care and support provided to both orphaned children and older people.

    The concern of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in the area of migration is connected to the vulnerability of the groups of people affected by this phenomenon. It is the responsibility of governments and communities to protect and assist migrants, ensure their human rights and work with them to help them integrate and feel part of the community. It is also necessary to seriously consider the issue of older people from countries that send migrants and the protection of their human rights.

    The work of our older volunteers has an immense impact on social, political and economic development. It helps them to stay "connected" with society, and it demonstrates their ability to be useful and productive members of society. We should work to expand and further develop the current knowledge and research into older people as volunteers. We must also strive to include older people in the search for solutions for improving their quality of life. Governments and civil society must acknowledge the contributions of older people and recognize their rights, at the same time enabling them to continue developing and participating in their communities.

    DADI JANKI, Chief Administrative Head of Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University: Our world is ageing as never before. In order to keep up with this transformation, individuals, families and communities everywhere will need to change too. Such change will be essential in order to ensure the rights and needs of the increasing number of older people. Yet, if a rapidly ageing society brings challenges, it also offers benefits in a world that needs the wisdom, maturity and insight of its elders. To realize the potential of our elder communities, we must call on humankind to enhance its spiritual development. Our university strongly supports the idea of a society that includes and values all people, regardless of age, gender and race. We believe that the foundation of an integrated society that lives by a culture of peace, dignity and caring will truly reflect the spirituality of humankind. So, if a society is to include all humanity, it must first include the human spirit.

    To build a society for all ages we must recognize active ageing. By including elders as full participants in society, their self-esteem and dignity will be ensured. We must truly promote dialogue and interaction with our elders in order to learn from the past and make positive preparations for the future. This will help create harmony between generations, cooperation among equals and unity among all people. The values, principles and wisdom that seniors can give to others are humankind’s forgotten treasure. Our efforts must now be focused on ways to develop these values and translate them as practical life changes for all. This will require inner power and spiritual practice -- the dedication of time and inner self. Collective change is possible, but it must start with each of us. And when our efforts are combined with the gift of God’s blessing, the task of bringing about a better world can be achieved.

    EDUARDO RODRIGUEZ ROVIRA, Chair of CEOMA and Co-Chairman of the NGO Forum: As you know, the NGO Forum was successfully held in Madrid, with very little resources but broad and active participation -- from 5 to 9 April. It included the participation of some 300 institutions, with representatives from over 179 countries. The outcome of our meeting aims to complement and strengthen international efforts to ensure the development of the rights of older persons. We have prepared a list of proposals for consideration by this Assembly, as well as all governments and civil society actors. The proposals address the fact that in many States, elderly persons face extreme poverty and social exclusion. Many elderly persons do not live a dignified existence and are often invisible to their governments.

    We are calling on global actors to, among other things, enforce strict and full implementation of international human rights instruments, without distinctions to age. The Forum would like to seek the elaboration of an international convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against older persons. We call on governments to ensure that older persons have the right of social protection, guaranteeing long-term care and the non-use of pension funds for other causes. There should be social and health networks which aim to ensure dignified ageing at home, as well as the integration of the elderly, particularly elderly women, into labour markets. We call on international financial institutions to stop elaborating polices which cut back on social development resources for poor countries.

    We call on developed countries, particularly those that host migrants, to stand by their international commitments in that regard. We call on United Nations Member States to re-commit themselves to ensuring the provision of the prescribed official development assistance (ODA) goals. The United Nations should seriously consider the setting up of a social emergency fund to alleviate the effects of prolonged economic crisis and natural disasters that exacerbate the precarious situation of older persons in developing countries. NGOs must participate in the planning and management of projects and services for senior citizens. The Forum proposes the creation of a council of senior citizens, which will promote peace and contribute to peace-building efforts. Although we have been presented with several arguments related to the availability of resources, we must insist on the creation of an agency within the United Nations specializing in issues related to older persons. Such an agency would monitor the Plan of Action adopted by this Assembly.

    OILDA MONTOYA, President of the Union Democratica de Pensionistas of Spain and Co-Chair of the NGO Forum: Members of the Union are veterans defending the legal protection of their lives. We are also working to improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable groups of society. As older persons, we call for recognition of our contribution to society.

    NGOs must all work together to seek greater political influence and ensure that States recognize the right of older people to at least minimal income, personal independence and integration in society. Older persons are often excluded from the public arena, and yet the increase in our number means that new public activities should be considered for our benefit. There is also a political aspect of ageing, and that is represented by our participation in elections. In the NGO Forum, we spoke about the involvement of civil society in the design of public policies. We must have a society for all ages, based on solidarity, human rights and social commitment.

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