The elderly, whose autonomy in making their own choices and decisions is already undermined, is facing a grim situation with COVID-19 pandemic bringing into sharp focus further violence, abuse and neglect against them, a UN independent expert said.
The world started to hear distressing reports from care homes across the world on neglect, isolation and lack of adequate services including healthcare, social and legal services, noted Claudia Mahler independent expert on June 15, marking World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
The UN Expert pointed out that Lockdown measures to control the virus resulted in increased gender-based violence, abuse and neglect of persons confined with family members and caregivers. The Human Rights Expert also noted that the challenge of seeking effective solutions, received little attention despite widespread alarm.
“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
Several people, including older persons and their families, expressed despair and frustration over the lack of transparency and responsiveness to complaints. This undermined their access to justice and to an effective remedy, she said. However, the UN Expert stressed 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. She pointed out that lack of detailed information and analysis limited the possibility to reveal pattern of abuse. In most cases, these remain under reported. She specified that it also undermined to identify concrete action for providing adequate protection to older persons.
Mahler opined that older persons must not be left behind when seeking redress and remedies. She requested the state government to “adopt a binding international human rights instrument, as well as national legislation and measures to ensure access to justice f 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 hur rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.