Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
12-30 January 2004
Agenda item 4: Report of the Chairperson on activities undertaken between the twenty-ninth and thirtieth sessions of the Committee
Report by Ms. Feride Acar
Chairperson, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Ms. Angela King, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women,
Ms. Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women,
Distinguished experts and dear colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen.
Let me start by expressing my genuine pleasure at being here once again at the start of a new session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and of a new year. I am delighted that all members are well and we are looking forward to another productive session.
I would like to thank Mr. Ocampo, Ms. King and Ms. Hannan for their opening statements. They have brought important issues to our attention, which I also believe require the Committee’s careful consideration. I will have the opportunity to elaborate on some of the points they raised.
Before presenting my report on my inter—sessional activities, I would like to welcome Ms. Dorcas Ama Frema Coker-Appiah as a member of this Committee. Ms. Coker-Appiah will be completing the term of office of Professor Akua Kuenyehia who was elected to the International Criminal Court. I look forward to her important contribution to the work of this Committee.
I am honoured to present my report on activities carried out since the last session.
I addressed the Third Committee of the General Assembly, on 15 October. Participation of the Committee’s Chairperson in the work of the General Assembly constitutes an important element in linking the work of this treaty body with the political processes of the United Nations. It is an important reaffirmation that policy and treaty-based approaches to gender equality and the advancement of women must go hand in hand for true and sustainable progress to be achieved. While we are still too far away from the goal of universal ratification of the Convention, the annual participation of the Committee’s Chairperson at the opening meeting on advancement of women in the Third Committee is a much needed reminder for all States parties. It is a reminder of commitments to universal ratification of this particular treaty that Member States agreed to, as far back as the Vienna Conference of Human Rights of 1993, and reaffirmed at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. I commend the Secretariat and members of the Committee for the efforts they have undertaken since our last session to continuously remind States and the international community of this goal which we were supposed to have reached by 2000. It would be my suggestion that, although we have not reached this goal as planned, no new goal should be set so as to highlight clearly that commitments, once entered, should be adhered to by all.
In my statement, I briefed the Assembly about the Committee’s work under article 18 of the Convention, in particular the number and types of reports we had considered during the year. I also identified some of the common trends and challenges that emerged during the consideration of these reports, and reviewed the Committee’s recommendations as to how to address these. I also referred to the Committee’s concern about the status of women’s human rights as they are enshrined under the Convention, in the post-war era in Iraq, a State party to the Convention. In my address to the Third Committee, reference was also made to the letter which I had addressed to the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, to raise these concerns and the need for drawing up all post-war activities in Iraq in full conformity with the provisions of the Convention.
I must take this opportunity to let you know that I was very pleased to see that CEDAW did have a high visibility position and received considerable attention and support in the statements of different States in the Third Committee. It was, however, also clear that much still needs to be done around the world to get the provisions of this Convention to be fully embraced by all States.
I briefed the Assembly about the Committee’s concern in relation to the non-reporting by States parties, and the steps taken to address these delays. Members will recall that I had been requested to write to those 29 States parties whose initial reports were five years overdue on 18 July 2003, which I have done. I have also written to the Administrator of UNDP to encourage him to support States parties in the implementation of their reporting obligations. I was also keen to affirm to the Assembly the Committee’s continuing commitment to enhance its working methods, and in this regard, I noted especially our decision to examine the option of considering periodic reports in parallel working groups rather than in plenary, and our considerations for doing so. This comment led to a follow-up question from the floor which provided an opportunity for further elaborating the rationale for considering this option.
A total of 33 States parties now await consideration of their reports. Since we adjourned on 18 July, fourteen States have submitted their reports. This number means that if we assume that on average, the reports of 8 States parties are considered per session, we have enough reports to fill sessions until January 2006, not taking into account additional reports that will be received. This in turn would mean that reporting States parties would have to wait an average of 2 to two and a half years after the submission of their report for the Committee to consider these reports. I would like to underline, once again, the potentially discouraging impact of this lag on State party reporting.
In October 2003, I briefed a group of Parliamentarians in a day-long session on the Convention and its reporting process that was organized by the Division and the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva. The session was initially geared towards Parliamentarians from those States that will be reporting in the course of 2004, but was expanded also to include representatives from countries that had reported in 2003. While the number of participants was lower than anticipated, those that did attend were very interested and engaged actively in the discussion. I trust that the Division will work with IPU to expand this type of briefing in the future. I understand that the efforts to translate the Handbook into different languages are already under way. On this score, I am happy to report that the Handbook has been translated into Turkish and will be launched shortly in Ankara.
The meeting in Dubrovnik, co-hosted by the Government of Croatia and UNIFEM, on 25 – 26 October, on implementation of the Convention was already mentioned. I would like to commend very warmly Ms. Simonovic who, together with Ms. Popescu and Ms. Morvai, conceptualized not only the conference itself, but especially the preparatory work that was undertaken at the national level in the six participating countries. Dear colleagues: Dubrovnik was indeed a most gratifying experience for a number of reasons. Not only did it provide a platform for an effective review and evaluation of some provisions of the Convention in a critical region of the world, in timely fashion, but the event was also very significant as an example of cooperation amongst the different UN bodies (CEDAW, DAW and UNIFEM) mandated to address women’s human rights and advancement of women at various levels. I congratulate the organizers and the participants for the success of this effort and look forward to similar activities in other regions towards ensuring the full implementation of the Convention. I hope that the results of the Dubrovnik meeting will now form a solid basis for an institutional framework for continuing attention to the Convention and its implementation in the six participating countries.
There are also some activities that I participated in, in my personal capacity, that are of interest to this Committee. Let me briefly touch upon those. In early November, I was happy to participate in, and deliver the keynote addresses in symposia entitled “Policy dialogue on gender equality 2003”, organized by the Gender Equality Bureau, Cabinet Office of Japan, in Tokyo and Okiyama. In the wake of the recent consideration of Japan’s 4th and 5th report by the Committee in July 2003, the occasion was a timely and effective opportunity to discuss women’s human rights from a global perspective and review international commitments and national action in the presence of large groups of participants from both, Government and civil society, in Japan. It was gratifying to observe that CEDAW’s provisions and the work of this Committee are indeed held in high esteem and help provide guidelines for efforts to achieve gender equality in Japan.
On a personal note, members of the Committee will be pleased to know that Ms. Ryoko Akamatsu, a former member of this Committee, has recently received a highly coveted honour (Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun) from the Emperor of Japan for her work as Minister of Education, as Ambassador, and for her efforts to improve the status of women. She has expressed her thanks to her colleagues in this Committee for all their support and contribution throughout her career. Speaking of thanks, let me also relay to you that Professor Frances Raday, another former member, from Israel, in her recent scholarly article entitled “Culture, Religion and Gender” (published in International Constitutional Law Journal, Oxford University and New York University School of Law, 2003, Vol.1/4) expresses her appreciation to her colleagues in this Committee by saying that she was inspired by their “humanistic insight and commitment to improving the lives of women”. She as well as our former colleague and Chairperson, Ms. Ivanka Corti, have asked me to relay their personal good wishes and New Year greetings to all of you, CEDAW members and friends.
I was also very glad to be able to participate in a two-day brainstorming session that was convened by Ms. Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, in Istanbul. The meeting, which took place on 7 and 8 December, brought together representatives of several non-governmental organizations that had worked with the previous office holder and that have a significant track record in regional and national efforts to combat violence against women. The participation of representatives of OHCHR, UNIFEM and DAW was an important reflection of the commitment on the part of these three entities to support the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, especially at a time of notable difficulties to find consensus, at global level, for further policy development in relation to violence against women. My participation allowed me to bring to the discussion the critical work done by this Committee in relation to violence against women, and to highlight some of the challenges we have identified through our work. I am very happy that the Special Rapporteur has accepted my invitation to meet with the Committee during this session.
I would also like to inform the Committee that, at the adoption of the new Constitution by the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan, which includes an explicit guarantee of the equal rights of women and men, I issued a statement to the press applauding this historic achievement, and pledging support to ensure the full and effective implementation of the Convention in Afghanistan.
2004 marks the 25th anniversary of the adoption, by the General Assembly of the Convention and clearly calls for an occasion to celebrate our achievements and the distance the international community and States parties have traveled in protecting and promoting women’s human rights during this time. It also needs to be used to remind everyone of the work and the obstacles that still lay ahead to reach the goal of full implementation of the Convention’s principles universally. I strongly believe the occasion should be used to convey these messages to wider segments of the international community as well as to enhance the voice and visibility of this Committee as the legally mandated international “watchdog” of women’s human rights. To this end, I have held some preliminary consultations with Ms. King and Ms. Hannan. I am pleased to say that as usual, they have been most receptive and supportive of the idea. Since the details of the arrangements need to be worked out, let me just say at this time that I look forward to an international event to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Convention during the 59th session of the General Assembly in October 2004.
My dear colleagues,
I trust the Committee will have the opportunity to discuss some of the points I raised during this statement, and will have a busy and productive 30th session. I take the opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to all of you, members of the Committee, who I know have put an extraordinary amount of work into the preparations for this session. I am aware that more work than ever before has necessitated members’ active contribution during these last months, for example in relation to working methods, general recommendations, and under the Optional Protocol. I have been in touch with many of you inter-sessionally and am truly overwhelmed with the commitment you have all displayed. I thank each and every one of you on behalf of the Committee and myself.
I also would like to express my gratitude, on behalf of this Committee, to the Secretariat and particularly to Christine Brautigam, Chief of the Women’s Rights Section, for her tireless efforts, much appreciated support and highly qualified contribution to the work of the Chair and the Committee inter-sessionally.
I thank you all very much for your attention.