4 October 2001
Ambassador Bagher Asadi
Chairman of the Group of 77 (Islamic Republic of Iran)
At the Working Supper of the Global Action on Ageing
New York, 4 October 2001
In the name of God the Compassionate the Merciful
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me first of all take the opportunity to thank Global Action on Ageing for the very kind invitation. And I am vary happy to be here today with all of you. This gathering, as part of the activities here in New York on the 11th Annual Observance of the International Day of Older persons, is a very opportune occasion for us – diplomats, representatives of the governments, the intergovernmental body at the United Nations – to talk directly with the civil society actors on an important international conference; that is, the 2nd World Assembly on Ageing. This time every year is a very busy and engaging season at the UN. It is more so this year, in a sense, because of the horrendous terroristic acts on September 11th. I have on previous occasions extended, on behalf of the Group of 77 – the developing community at the United Nations – our deepest condolences and sympathy to the Government and People of the United States and to the families and relatives of the victims of those inhuman acts.
Before turning to the substance of the matter at hand, let me make a couple of brief points. First, Madam Chair, the point you made in your introductory words a little while earlier on the importance of the work of the United Nations was a very valid point. I would like to lend support to that idea and emphasize that the UN’s work is important and needs to be supported. The Second point concerns what you mentioned about my previous intergovernmental responsibilities here at the UN, particularly the co-chairmanship of the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF). Well, let me tell you a little story in this connection. As everybody knows following the completion of the IFF mandate, a new body was established to pursue the forest work at the UN, the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), which happens to be a body with universal membership and at the same time a subsidiary organ of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which itself happens to a principal organ of the UN with limited membership (54 members). It sounds like an oxymoron. But, that aside, that is exactly the situation and I was in charge of the negotiations for the establishment of this new forests body. What is interesting in this regard is that in the course of negotiations on UNFF the developing countries had a very clear and emphatic preference for universal membership of the Forum. At the same time, everybody agreed that NGOs and other non-state actors or stakeholders were active in forest work and that they had an important role to play. Moreover, everybody was cognizant of the fact that non-state actors and NGOs cannot participate in the activities of the General Assembly, while the rules of procedure of ECOSOC provides for such participation. And that is exactly why it was finally agreed in the intergovernmental negotiating process that the new body would have universal membership and yet would be a subsidiary organ of the Council. As far as our discussion tonight is concerned, this outcome has one important meaning and message; that NGOs are important, that you are important. And you hear this from somebody who was directly involved in that process and is pro-NGO activity to the core.
With this little story on the importance of the NGOs role in the multilateral processes we are engaged in at the United Nations, I can now proceed to present, obviously very briefly, the perspective of the developing countries on the Madrid Conference.. We in the developing world look at the Second World Assembly on Ageing as a watershed for our countries and societies in terms of the national policies on ageing to effectively deal with what is increasingly being referred to as a demographic agequake – and we are all living in age when new concepts keep being coined, hence the “agequake”. Statistics have already established that eighty percent of the world’s population of six billion people live in developing countries. By the year 2050, it is estimated that the total of those aged 60 years and older will double worldwide but actually triple in developing countries concomitant with a sharp decline in birth rates by almost a half. Of particular significance is the fact that developing countries will witness an explosion of their older population within twenty five years or less.
Given these stark statistics, the developing countries that constitute the Group of 77 have a strong interest in a substantive and realistic outcome of the Second World Assembly on Ageing. The older generation has always been important pillars in our societies, conveying wisdom, values, insight and advice that have perpetuated their active role in our lives. Nevertheless, we recognize that rapid changes are taking place in our societies that are already having an impact on the lives of the older persons. Family structures are changing; the role of government is under review; income and employment opportunities are different, pensions are not always adequate, migration of youths are on the rise and services and support systems for the elderly may be lacking.
Looking back at the outcome of the First World Assembly on Ageing and its Plan of Action, it is fair to say that despite certain positive aspects the recommendations contained in the Plan of Action were more suited to the needs of developed countries. A shortcoming that needs to be redressed now that we are preparing for the 2nd Assembly. And it should be added that due to the broad scope of the Plan, most governments were able to formulate and adapt their policies to better support their aged population. Moreover, that Plan was also instrumental in focusing international attention on issues of importance to that generation. This global rethinking eventually led to the formulation and adoption of the 18 United Nations Principles for Older Persons, a general comment on the economic, social and cultural rights of older persons, observance of the year 1999 as the International Year of Older Persons and greater awareness of the importance of the theme “A Society for All Ages” for long-term policy formulation on ageing.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The initiative of a society for all ages highlights the inadequacy of simply restricting analysis to the situation of older persons. In focusing on individual lifelong development, greater attention has been given to promoting a lifetime approach to education, health, employment and the upgrading of skills. Similarly, with medical advances and longer life expectancy worldwide, more generations are interacting amongst each other thus requiring some attention to multigenerational relationships. At the same time in an era of globalization, increased poverty and marginalization of sections of society, the issue of population ageing and development cannot be ignored. Indeed, the UN conferences of the 1990s and their review processes – all sharing the important premise of placing people at the centre of development – continue to make a significant contribution to the debate and policy formulation on integrating all groups of society for national development.
As everybody knows, the next session of the preparatory meeting for the Madrid Conference will take place here in New York in December. The draft strategy for action on ageing was distributed a few weeks ago. It will be discussed and negotiated by Member States in the upcoming PrepCom. The Group of 77 is still formulating its position on this text. But, let me share with you some initial thoughts.
From our point of view, it is important that the 2002 Strategy be primarily a forward-looking document that takes into account the special needs and challenges facing the older population, particularly in developing countries. As indicated earlier, this segment of the population is rarely considered dependents in our societies and their active participation in public and private life is fully appreciated. Many are engaged in volunteer work, self help activities, farming and giving practical support to their families and communities. It is, therefore, hoped that promoting and supporting active lifestyles becomes an important theme of the new International Strategy. At the same time, the vulnerabilities of this segment of society should not be ignored. In many cases, they become victims of mental health problems, poverty-related illness, violence and abuse. The needs of the disabled, rural and indigenous elderly should receive due attention. Similarly, older migrants face specific circumstances that constrain the realization of their full potential.
We believe that the 2002 International Strategy on Ageing should endeavour to mainstream a gender perspective and in this regard, pay due attention to the relevant provisions for women’s empowerment in the Beijing Platform for Action. The critical areas of concern of Beijing have not been overcome – poverty, access to basic social services, violence, armed conflict, discrimination and violation of the rights of women continue to be important challenges that also confront older women.
Before concluding, let me just add a word on what I consider central to the whole idea of the on-going preparatory process and the Assembly itself. We all should endeavour, to the best of our abilities, to ensure the promotion of a positive image of the ageing process so that older persons’ contribution to society are recognized and fostered. There is growing consensus that the more elders are seen as living, respected and productive lives, greater will be the support from the wider community to provide an enabling environment for their survival and continued contribution. Many countries are witnessing the increasing divide between youths and the elderly as rapid changes in society transform value systems and traditional practices.
And a word on the critical role that non-state actors can play in this process. We diplomats, by definition, represent the official views of our respective governments, or groups of governments – as is the case for our Group or other major groups like the EU. It would not be a terrible confession on my part to admit that the official perspective may suffer from certain inadequacies or shortcomings. Only you, representatives of the civil society, would be in a privileged position to compliment and complete the picture. I believe the well-being, welfare and active participation of older persons in the life of our societies, from the level of family as the smallest social unit to the community level and finally to the level of national life, is in fact one of the best areas of activity for the civil society proper. All actors, including the NGOs, the media and academia, have a role in ensuring that the ageing process is not seen as a path to dependency and victimization, rather, as a continuation of personal achievement and participation in daily life.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Second World Assembly on Ageing must produce an outcome that will have an impact for all the elderly – rich and poor, male and female, married, widowed or single. The elderly themselves must be part of this process as information is gathered and policy decisions are made. The occasion of the International Day of Older Persons should be a stimulus to all of us, particularly the civil society actors, to undertake to ensure that the global phenomenon of ageing is addressed in an urgent, timely and comprehensive manner for the continued integration and empowerment of older persons.
I thank you all very much for your kind indulgence.