Activities of the Chairperson from the end of the exceptional session in August 2002 to 31 December 2002
Dear Experts and friends,
During the period in question, I participated in the following activities:
The fifty-seventh session of the General Assembly, from 9 to 11 October 2002, - during the debate under items 102 and 103 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 on “Women 2000: Gender equality, development and peace for
the twenty first century”. Under item 102, the Assembly considered, inter alia,:
· The report of the Secretary-General on working towards the elimination of crimes against women committed in the name of honour (A/57/169);
· The report of the Secretary-General on trafficking in women and girls (A/57/170);
· The Note of the Secretary-General on the situation of the International Training and Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (A/57/129-E-2002/77); and
· The report of the Working Group on the Future Operations of INSTRAW (A/57/330).
Dear Experts and friends,
I am purposely mentioning these documents because of their importance to the work of the Committee. The first two are included because they relate to the implementation of Articles 5, 6, and 12 of the Convention in particular. The issue of trafficking in women and girls will be on the agenda during the upcoming CSW session and the Committee may wish to make a statement on the issue based on States parties reports reviewed so far. Trafficking in women and girls has taken such a global dimension that not only do the victims suffer discrimination under almost all the Articles of our Convention, but even their basic right to life is often threatened. Personally, I feel that it is important for the Committee to also inform itself of the difficult situation and the future work of INSTRAW.
My main task was, of course, to brief the Third Committee on the output of the Committee over the past year. Dear Experts and Friends, since you can have copies of my statement, I shall not dwell on the statement itself, but rather speak about the reactions to the statement by some of the delegates. Almost all the delegates who took the floor referred to my statement and commended the Committee’s work, particularly its revised working methods, which as many put it, have made the constructive dialogue a very interesting learning process. Many delegates highly commended the Committee for holding the first ever informal closed meeting with States parties during the twenty-seventh session. They found the meeting extremely useful, particularly in respect of the implementation of Article 18 by States parties. May I take the opportunity to encourage the Committee to implement its decision to hold such informal meetings periodically? Such meetings should also be held with States not yet parties to the Convention. I understand the Committee will have such a meeting during this session.
Still on the reactions to my statement, please permit me to just mention a few examples. The delegate from Ukraine spoke at length on CEDAW’s working methods and was happy to inform the Assembly that his Government was in the process of ratifying the Optional Protocol. Her Excellency the Ambassador of Surinam also spoke at length about the “wonderful experience” during the presentation of her country’s combined initial and periodic report. Reacting
to the twelfth meeting of States parties held on 29 August 2002, which I had mentioned in my statement, like the distinguished delegate of Cuba and the representative of CARICOM, her Excellency the Ambassador of Surinam regretted that the Latin American and Caribbean region (LAC) was underrepresented on the Committee, and worse still that the Caribbean sub-region
was not represented at all.
In his statement, the distinguished delegate of Iran mentioned that his Government was in the process of ratifying the Convention. This was very welcome information for me. “Old” Committee members will recall that in my report to the Committee at its 27th session I mentioned that I had meetings with the Iranian delegation when I participated in the Commission on Human Rights meeting in Geneva in April 2002, the purpose of the meeting being to encourage the Iranian Government to ratify the Convention. May I suggest that the Committee follow up with the Mission here in New York? I have read from other sources that the Parliament in Iran has passed a law that gives women more opportunities to seek divorce even though the draft of this law had previously failed to pass on several occasions. Again the policy on school uniforms for girls (wearing veils) in basic schools has also been relaxed. To me, these are commendable efforts towards the ratification and implementation of the Convention.
I was very much intrigued by a point raised by the distinguished delegate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in her statement and I quote: “From the perspective of the Framework of Welfare, women are seen as a vulnerable group, as victims ‘we’ need to help. As if women are not part of ‘we, the peoples’. Basing ourselves on the viewpoint of the Framework of Human Rights, no matter how important, is not enough either. Women want to use their qualities, and society needs their qualities; hence women want the opportunity to make their own, diverse and valuable contributions. Society as a whole can benefit from these.” Dear Experts, I am sure you also find the point interesting. The distinguished delegate of Denmark, speaking on behalf of the European Union and the Central and Eastern European Countries associated with the Union, emphasised in his statement that the primary international instrument on respect for the rights of women is the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol. The EU welcomed the efforts made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. It urged States parties to accept the amendment to Article 20, para. 1, of the Convention. The EU, by this commendable statement, is making it crystal clear that the CEDAW Convention is the central international instrument on respect for the rights of women. Experts should bear this in mind during the presentation of reports of States parties from the Union, especially in terms of the visibility of the Convention in national laws.
I was glad when I was also given the floor in the debate following a panel on poverty alleviation. My comments were based on the fact that according to States parties’ reports, feminization of poverty is largely due to the denial of equal opportunities, equal rights and equal status to women and girls throughout their life cycle, as well as all forms of violence against them. Therefore, poverty alleviation programmes should address obstacles that impede the full enjoyment by women and girls of their rights under the Convention, including the implementation of Article 4.1, especially in the allocation of funds and in education and training. I encouraged those countries that have not yet ratified the Convention to do so. I also encouraged those State parties that have placed reservations on articles that are incompatible with the letter and spirit of the Convention to work towards withdrawing them if feminisation of poverty is at least to be reduced.
Dear Experts and friends, on the afternoon of 9 October 2002, I had a meeting with the Secretary-General. I was accompanied by Ms. Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women. The purpose of the meeting was to inform the Secretary-General that my term as Chairperson and member of the Committee end on 31 December 2002 and to
once again thank him for his decision to keep the Committee in New York. I briefed the Secretary-General on the Committee's first informal closed meeting with States parties, talked about the large number of States parties present and their active participation, and the fact that some of the delegations were actually led by their Ambassadors. This and the overwhelming participation of delegates at the twelfth meeting of States parties on 29 August 2002 are demonstrations of the keen interest that States parties have in the work of the Committee and, also, of the fact that all States parties have Missions in New York. In Geneva, many Missions
from developing countries serve at the same as their countries representatives to Switzerland and in some cases to Austria as well. In addition, they also serve on bodies and agencies such as ILO, WTO, WHO and many more. Bearing in mind all this workload and limited staff -obviously due to economic reasons, - it is difficult for such Missions to adequately and effectively participate in all the various meetings. In this regard, it is my hope that the decision he took on 9 March 2001 to keep the Committee serviced by DAW was an irreversible one.
Thanks to Ms. Hannan, my attention was drawn to a report of the Secretary-General, which was not part of items 102 and 103. The report was under item 53 of the 57th session of the General Assembly and entitled, “Strengthening of the United Nations: an agenda for further change” (A/57/387). I read this document with keen interest, particularly paragraph 46 of section B – Strengthening of human rights. This paragraph talks about elections in respect of the Commission on Human Rights and debates. The paragraph states and I quote, "They (Member States) must realize that, if they allow elections and debates to be dictated by political considerations, or by block positions, rather than by genuine efforts to strengthen human rights throughout the world, the credibility and usefulness of the Commission will inevitably be eroded". To me, this is also true for the independent treaty bodies. Dear Experts and friends this powerful statement in the S-G's report touches upon an issue which I have been concerned about for some time. I did commend the S-G for the report and requested him to continue to emphasize the independence of Committee members on the various treaty bodies. Nothing should jeopardise the independence of Experts. The Secretary-General agreed and promised to bring this to the attention of States parties. The Committee may wish to discuss this issue with the aim of ensuring the independence of Experts. This could also be brought up at the Chairpersons Meeting.
The document further raises the issue of States parties’ obligations to report on the implementation of the current six human rights treaties to the respective monitoring bodies and how this could be streamlined. The “old” Experts will remember that this is an issue that keeps on coming up every now and then. Reacting to this, I briefed the Secretary-General on the
first Inter-Committee Meeting of the six UN human rights treaty bodies held in June 2002. This meeting actually addressed most of the issues that were raised in his document and came out with workable recommendations. Implementing these recommendations could make the reporting procedures easier and more effective in terms of content and length of the reports as well as reduce or eliminate duplication of information to the different treaty bodies. The recommendations of the First Inter-Committee Meeting of June 2002 held in Geneva also encourage the Committee to address the gender perspective of the five other human rights instruments as well. May I recommend that the Committee take up this document, particularly section B, and make a statement or suggestion, as incidentally was proposed in a letter from the High Commissioner for Human Rights addressed to me as Chairperson.
In all, my meeting with the Secretary-General was a very fruitful one and I wish to take this opportunity to thank all those, particularly Ms. Hannan, who made it possible to happen.