UN human rights chief hails work of women’s anti-discrimination committee

23 July 2007 – The top United Nations human rights official today praised the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, as it marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of its work in monitoring States’ compliance with a landmark treaty on the issue.

The 23-member expert body is tasked with ensuring that 185 States parties meet their obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the 1979 treaty – also known as CEDAW – often described as an international bill of rights for women.

“The Convention introduced the notion of substantive equality for women, emphasizing that although there may be no overtly discriminatory laws, women are not considered equal until they enjoy, in fact and in reality, the same opportunities and privileges as men,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour stated today at a special ceremony in New York to celebrate the milestone.

Under the Convention, States parties have legally committed themselves to take the necessary steps to end all forms of discrimination against women in any field – whether political, economic, social, cultural or civic.

Ms. Arbour said the Convention, now ratified by almost the entire international community, marked the “first step in a comprehensive human rights framework for women and girls.”

Among the Committee’s achievements, she highlighted the elaboration of the Convention’s Optional Protocol, which enables the expert body, based on certain criteria, to undertake inquiries into possible grave or systematic violations of women’s rights.

She also noted that the Committee was a pioneer in addressing issues such as female circumcision, violence against women and HIV/AIDs.

“By promoting the Committee and women’s human rights generally, we push the entire human rights agenda forward,” she said.

Also among those hailing the work of the Committee was Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, President of the General Assembly, who stated that the panel’s effective monitoring work and guidance has “significantly enhanced the accountability of States for women’s enjoyment of their human rights and shaped the progress of women worldwide.”

Today’s ceremony followed the official opening of the Committee’s thirty-ninth session, during which experts will review reports from Belize, Brazil, Estonia, Guinea, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Korea and Singapore, as well as Cook Islands.

Over the last 25 years, the Committee has reviewed over 400 reports from 154 countries.

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