A delegation from John Marshall on August 1 presented proposed international human rights legislation before the United Nations. The group of faculty and staff – led by Professor William Mock – presented The Chicago Declaration on the Rights of Older Persons, legislation that aims to provide legal protections to older persons under international human rights law.
“Our world’s older population is among the most deserving, and most in dire need of broad legal safeguards,” Mock said. “With the Chicago Declaration, we are proud to help lead the charge and be involved in establishing vital protections for older persons on an international scale.”
Officials from John Marshall and partner organizations – including Roosevelt University, the City of Chicago, the American Bar Association, the University of Haifa and the National University of Ireland at Galway– presented the declaration before the U.N. as part of its Fifth Session of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing.
The declaration – created under the direction of John Marshall and with the help of Roosevelt and East China University of Political Science and Law – is sponsored at the U.N. by a coalition of international government and interest groups, including the American Bar Association Commission on Law & Aging, the Washington, D.C.-based Elder Justice Coalition, as well as the government of the Dominican Republic.
The Chicago Declaration addresses a multitude of real and potential issues facing the world’s older population, from medical decision-making to abuse. The declaration calls upon international states to raise public awareness and educate older persons of their rights, as well as encourage programs that promote inter-generational relationships.
The declaration was crafted over several months by an international group drawing from the academic, NGO and legal communities from 16 countries. The current version presented in New York was adopted at John Marshall in July. All of the research contributing to the declaration can be found at www.jmls.edu/braun-materials.
John Marshall was represented at the U.N. by: Professors William Mock, Mark E. Wojcik and Steven Schwinn, co-director of John Marshall’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC); Adjunct Professors Sarah Davila-Ruhaak, co-director of the IHRC, and Barry Kozak, director of the school’s Elder Law Programs; researcher Amy Taylor; and Teresa Do, director of Administrative Support for Faculty. Taylor, a third-year law student, conducted significant Chicago Declaration research as assistant to Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Ralph Ruebner. Ruebner directed the development of the Chicago Declaration, including generating its partnerships and support among government bodies and advocacy groups. Roosevelt Associate Professor Bethany Barratt is joining the John Marshall team in presenting before the U.N.
The declaration explicitly aims to prevent discrimination and notes the need to protect certain vulnerable populations, including women, religious minorities, those suffering from dementia and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons. The proposed legislation calls for freedom in older persons’ decisions, including quality of life, housing, and health care. Some examples include:
- Older persons have the right to effective enjoyment of life, the right to live with dignity in old age, and the right to make decisions about the quality of their lives.
- Older persons have the right to self-determination in health-related matters and to make medical decisions based on informed consent.
- Older persons have the right to access a range of in-home formal or informal caregiving, residential, and other community support services.
Chicago’s top policymakers are urging the U.N. to use the Chicago Declaration as a springboard to create an international convention on older persons’ rights. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago City Council and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) all have endorsed the Chicago Declaration.
On the U.S. House floor ahead of the U.N. meeting, Schakowsky (D-IL) commended John Marshall for “spearheading a critical discussion about the needs and rights of older persons.” Schakowsky, a co-chair of the House Democratic Caucus Seniors Task Force, encouraged her colleagues to “learn more about the Chicago Declaration, and join in the fight to promote the rights of older Americans.”
In a letter of support, Mayor Emanuel noted: “With its history of advocacy for social justice, the City of Chicago wholeheartedly endorses the Chicago Declaration.”