Prof. Linda Reif authors book chapter on the international rights of older persons

The chapter looks at the work of ombuds institutions in protecting and promoting these rights

Lauren Bannon - 21 November 2022

Professor Linda Reif has authored a chapter titled “Ombuds Institutions: Non-judicial Mechanisms for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Older Persons” in the book The Ombudsman in the Modern State.

Human rights ombuds institutions are their country’s national human rights institutions (NHRI). Classic ombuds do not have explicit rights mandates, but their responsibility to work against maladministration using legal and broader control standards permits them to look at human rights norms.

The human rights of seniors are rarely recognized by classic ombuds but, surprisingly, even human rights ombuds could increase the attention they pay to relevant human rights norms, as the rights of older persons intersect with the international law on the rights of women, persons with disabilities and persons confined involuntarily. For example, human rights ombuds do address age discrimination matters but they need to pay more attention to the rights of older women, who comprise a larger proportion of the elderly.

This chapter scrutinizes the work of a selection of human rights and classic ombuds in the regions with the largest share of older adults: Europe, the Americas and Australasia. It finds that while many ombuds address public and private failures affecting seniors, only a smaller subset place a high priority on older persons and their rights.

The chapter makes numerous recommendations for changing the operating practices of ombuds institutions including increasing the number of ombuds own-initiative investigations that focus on issues impacting seniors, training staff on the rights of older persons and collecting disaggregated data on seniors as complainants and the barriers they face in making complaints to ombuds institutions.

“I hope readers will gain a deeper understanding that older persons — as a growing part of our population — have rights that are not adequately protected by government and private bodies,” says Reif. “ The modern state needs to do more to protect and promote the rights of seniors, and ombuds institutions are one type of state mechanism that can assist. While they have done so to a certain extent in the past, they still need to do more on a consistent basis to recognize and protect older persons and their rights.”