Ratification of AU protocol on rights of older persons is long over due

Carol Kay Achak

What you need to know:

Older persons continue to face discrimination of their rights at family, community and institutional levels

On January 31, 2016, the African Union (AU) member States adopted the Protocol on the Rights of older Persons in Africa, to address the magnitude of human rights violations against older people.

The Protocol aims at ensuring that older persons enjoy their full rights and freedoms on an equal basis with other population groups, which among others, urges member States to include them in their national laws.

A total of 15 of the 55 African Union member States are required to sign and ratify the Protocol before it comes into force as a legally binding instrument.

Regrettably, as of March 25 2022, only 6(six) countries had ratified the Protocol; Lesotho (2018), Benin (2019), Ethiopia (2020), Kenya (2021), Malawi (2021), and Rwanda (2021).

Uganda is yet to sign and ratify the Protocol into action.

Though the Uganda Human Rights Commission (2020) report highlighted that there was commitment by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to have the Protocol ratified by June 2020; with the Senior Management Committee having passed it and a certificate of financial implication secured, no confirmation has taken place to date.

In Uganda, older persons (defined as 60 years and above), are generally regarded as vulnerable, not only physically but also socially and economically. It is, therefore, surprising that Uganda is yet to ratify the Protocol that seeks to give them more protection.

Ratification will make it mandatory for Uganda and other African States to design and implement plans, policies, programmes and services that address the needs and vulnerabilities of older persons, and report on progress made in implementation of the Protocol.

According to the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, older persons in Uganda were 1.5 million in 2020 and the number is expected to increase to six million by 2050. This is a humble estimate. With the current life expectancy in Uganda now standing at 66 years, the plight of older persons can no longer be neglected.

Older persons continue to face discrimination of their rights at family, community and institutional levels.

October 1 was yet another opportunity for celebration as the day for older persons.

Article 32 of the Ugandan Constitution, 1995, calls for seeking redress for the marginalised, including the aged. In order to address the many challenges faced by older persons and to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal tenet of leaving no one behind, there is need for a human rights-based approach that the Protocol will emphasise.

Other vulnerable categories of persons such as children, women and persons with disabilities have had regional and international instruments ratified for their protection, which instruments have in turn been domesticated into national laws such as the Children Amendment Act of 2016, the Persons With Disabilities Act, 2020 and other laws for the protection of women. It is high time older persons were given the same attention.

Ratification will help Uganda make deliberate and systematic efforts towards protecting the dignity and rights of older people, holding duty bearers accountable as well as contributing towards collective actions needed by the AU member states. As Mahatma Ghandi once said, “The measure of a society is seen in how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.” May Uganda choose the path of ageing with dignity for older persons and ratify the said Protocol.

Carol Kay Achak is a human rights lawyer and advocate for older persons’ rights  


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