13/01/2003
Press Release
WOM/1372



Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

589th Meeting (AM)


WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE OPENS TWENTY-EIGHTH SESSION;

ELECTS OFFICERS, ADOPTS WORK PROGRAMME


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women -- the monitoring body for the implementation of the Convention against such discrimination – opened its twenty-eighth session this morning.


At an organizational meeting at which it adopted its agenda and programme of work, the Committee agreed that during the current session, which is to last until 31 January, it will examine the reports of eight States parties -- Switzerland, Kenya, Albania, Norway, El Salvador, Luxembourg, Canada, and the Republic of the Congo.  Three of the countries reporting during the session, namely, Switzerland, Albania and Republic of the Congo, are reporting to the Committee for the first time since ratifying the Convention.


After electing a new Chairperson, Ayse Feride Acar of Turkey, by acclamation, the Committee also elected three Vice-Chairpersons:  Maria Yolanda Ferrer Gomez of Cuba, Heisoo Shin of the Republic of Korea, and Victoria Popescu Sandru of Romania.  Christine Kapalata, of the United Republic of Tanzania, was elected Committee Rapporteur.


Opening the session, Angela E.V. King, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, welcomed experts, particularly new Committee members, and briefed them on developments that had occurred since the Committee’s last session.  Ratifications to the Convention and its Optional Protocol had been continuing at a steady pace; there were now a total of 170 States parties to the Convention and 49 States who had ratified or acceded to the Optional Protocol.


The Committee's 23 experts, who act in their personal capacity, monitor compliance with the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which requires States parties to eliminate such discrimination in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic and cultural rights.  In pursuit of the treaty's goals, countries are encouraged to introduce affirmative action measures designed to promote equality between women and men, and are legally bound to put its provisions into practice and submit periodic reports on their compliance.


New Committee members sworn in today were:  Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdan of Algeria, Cornelis Flinterman of the Netherlands, Huguette Bokpe Gnacadja of Benin, Akua Kuenyehia of Ghana, Kriztina Morvai of Hungary, Pramila Patten of Mauritius, Victoria Popescu Sandru of Romania, and Dubravka Simonovic of Croatia.

Addressing the Committee following her election as Committee Chairperson, Ms. Acar paid tribute to her predecessors and colleagues, noting that the Committee has exhibited a unique combination of “mind and soul”, requiring not only professional but also personal commitment from its members.  The Committee had acquired importance not only for the human rights community, but also for international women’s movements and academia, shaping a future world free of discrimination against women in more ways than one.


Former Committee Chairperson Charlotte Abaka of Ghana briefed the Committee on her activities since the Committee’s exceptional session.  Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, highlighted the Division’s activities during the period September 2002-January 2003.  The Interim Chief of the Women's Rights Unit, Division for the Advancement of Women, Helga Klein, introduced an item on article 21 of the Convention, which authorizes the Committee to make recommendations based on the reports of States parties.  She introduced a second item on ways and means of expediting the Committee's work and the reports of the Committee on those items.


The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 14 January, to begin consideration of the reports of States parties.


Statements


ANGELA E.V. KING, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, welcomed the Committee, especially new members, and expressed appreciation to members and officers whose termed had expired at the end of the previous session.


Briefing the Committee about developments that had occurred since the last session, she noted that the Secretary-General’s study on “Women, Peace and Security”, to which Committee members had contributed, was released in October 2002 (document S/2002/1154).  She said that ratifications to the Convention and its Optional Protocol had been continuing at a steady pace.  There were now a total of 170 States parties to the Convention and 49 States who had ratified or acceded to the Optional Protocol.  Thirty-seven States parties had now accepted the amendment to article 20, paragraph 1, of the Convention. 


Introducing the issues on the session’s agenda, she said that eight reports of States parties would be considered, namely, those of Albania, Canada, El Salvador, Kenya, Luxembourg, Norway, the Republic of Congo and Switzerland.  She pledged the full support of the Secretariat in assisting the Committee with the heavy workload ahead.


CAROLYN HANNAN, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, highlighting activities undertaken during the period September 2002-January 2003, said that the Division, in collaboration with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), had convened a judicial colloquium on the application of international human rights law at the domestic level from 4 to 6 November 2002 in Bangkok.  Participants discussed opportunities in their legal systems for making greater use of international human rights norms to benefit women and girls.  After that, also in collaboration with ESCAP, the Division organized a reporting workshop from 6 to 8 November in Bangkok, which was conducted for government officials of Asian countries responsible for preparing reports under article 18 of the Convention.  Participants from Bhutan, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia and Tajikistan had attended.  Participants had also come from Afghanistan and East Timor -- States which had not yet ratified the Convention.


The Division had also participated in an expert seminar on article 4, paragraph 1, of the Convention, she said.  Its main goal had been to support the Committee in the process of drafting a general recommendation on that article, particularly through the formulation of concrete suggestions for its contents.   In preparation for the forty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Division, in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, organized an expert group meeting in November on trafficking in women and girls.  Three reports submitted by the Secretary-General to the fifty-seventh session of the General Assembly dealt with issues relevant to the Committee’s work, namely, violence against women, crimes against women committed in the name of honour, and trafficking in women and girls.  Consensus resolutions were adopted on all three topics.  In the annual resolution on the Convention, the Assembly had recalled the high number of overdue reports, particularly initial reports, and had urged the timely submission of reports.  The Secretary-General had requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to consult with the treaty bodies on new streamlined reporting procedures and to submit recommendations by September 2003.  The Committee would have to consider the matter during the session, so that its views could be submitted to the High Commissioner by the end of May 2003.


Since the Committee’s inception, there had been a steady evolution in the relationship between it and the intergovernmental process in the promotion of gender equality, she said.  That had become more systematic since the early 1990s, especially since the adoption of the Declaration and Platform of Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995).  At a time when the international community and national governments focused on the Millennium Development Goals, the organic link between the legal framework and the policy process became even more important in ensuring that gender equality remained a critical priority and was pursued not only as a goal in its own right, but also as a means to achieve poverty eradication and sustainable development goals.  The interaction between the Committee, the Commission on the Status of Women and the General Assembly had become more important then ever.


The Chairperson of the Committee, AYSE FERIDE ACAR of Turkey, paid tribute to her predecessors and colleagues and said that the Committee has exhibited a unique combination of “mind and soul”, requiring not only professional, but also personal commitment from its members.  She noted that the Committee had acquired importance not only for the human rights community, but also for international women’s movements and academia, shaping a future world free of discrimination against women in more ways than one.


Ratifications of the Optional Protocol, she said, had been increasing, and she expressed satisfaction that her own country, Turkey, had ratified in October.  The Committee should continue considering how it could assist in achieving universal ratification of both the Convention and the Protocol, and how the instruments could be utilized to their best effect.


She said that strengthening cooperation with the Division for the Advancement of Women, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and other United Nations bodies was critical, to prioritize protection and promotion of women’s rights at the national level, where violations of such rights actually occur.  Role stereotypes and discriminatory cultural values persisted in societies and were often responsible for lessening the impact of legal reforms and egalitarian legislation passed in light of the Convention and other international instruments.  The Secretary-General’s recent report could point to a new direction for the Committee in becoming involved in domestic protection mechanisms for human rights.


CHARLOTTE ABAKA of Ghana, former Committee Chairperson, briefed the Committee on her activities undertaken between the Committee’s exceptional and current sessions.  During the General Assembly’s fifty-seventh session, she had participated in the debate under the items on the advancement of women, the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women, and the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly.  Among the documents considered by the Assembly were the Secretary-General’s report on the elimination of crimes against women committed in the name of honour, as well as his report on trafficking in women and girls.  The issue of trafficking in women would be on the agenda of the upcoming Commission on the Status of Women session.  The Committee might wish to make a statement on the issue based on States parties’ reports reviewed so far.


Her main task had been to brief the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) on the Committee’s output during the past year, she said.  Many delegates had commended the Committee for holding the first ever-informal meeting with States parties during the twenty-seventh session.  She encouraged the Committee to implement its decision to periodically hold such informal meetings.   She had also participated in a debate following a panel on poverty alleviation.  According to States parties’ reports, feminization of poverty was largely due to the denial of equal opportunities, equal rights and equal status to women and girls throughout their lives.  Poverty alleviation programmes should address the obstacles that impeded the full enjoyment by women and girls of their rights under the Convention, including implementation of article 4.1, especially in the allocation of funds and in education and training.


She said she had read the Secretary-General’s report, “Strengthening of the United Nations:  an agenda for further change”, with keen interest, particularly the paragraph on the strengthening of human rights.  The paragraph on elections regarding the Commission on Human Rights and debates had touched upon an issue of concern to her.  Nothing should jeopardize the independence of experts.  In her meeting with the Secretary-General, he had promised to bring that to the attention of States parties.  The Committee might wish to discuss the issue with the aim of ensuring the independence of experts.  The report had also raised the issue of States parties’ obligations to report on the implementation of the current six human rights treaties to the respective monitoring bodies.


AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ (Mexico) said it was important that Ms. Abaka had commented on the way in which the Committee could make use of paragraph 46 of the Secretary-General’s report.  The Committee would benefit from reading the Secretary-General’s report.  She hoped that States parties would pay heed to the Secretary-General’s suggestions on the matter.

HELGA KLEIN, the Interim Chief of the Women’s Rights Unit, introduced an item on article 21 of the Convention, which authorized the Committee to make recommendations based on the reports of the States parties.  Under the same item, the Committee would also take up article 22, under which specialized agencies were entitled to be represented at the consideration of provisions of the Convention that fell within the scope of their activities.


Under another item, she said a report on the Committee’s long-term programme for the elaboration of general recommendations had been included in the Secretariat’s broader report on ways and means of expediting the work of the Committee (document CEDAW/C2003/1/4, Chapter III).  The report included a summary of relevant developments that occurred within the international human rights regime since the Committee’s last session and other matters.  Additionally, she recalled that the Committee agreed, at its last regular session, to consider the elaboration of general recommendations following its statements to the Durban Conference against racism and the Madrid World Assembly on Ageing.


To encourage universal ratification of the Convention, she noted, all States that have not yet been able to ratify had been invited to a meeting to discuss future prospects in that regard, to be held on 28 January.  Finally, she announced the reports not yet referred to in the ways and means report, since they were received after 12 November 2002, included those of Bangladesh, Belarus, Nepal, Bhutan and Malta.


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