Reservations to CEDAW

The Convention permits ratification subject to reservations, provided that the reservations are not incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention. Some States parties that enter reservations to the Convention do not enter reservations to analogous provisions in other human rights treaties. A number of States enter reservations to particular articles on the ground that national law, tradition, religion or culture are not congruent with Convention principles, and purport to justify the reservation on that basis. Some States enter a reservation to article 2, although their national constitutions or laws prohibit discrimination. There is therefore an inherent conflict between the provisions of the State's constitution and its reservation to the Convention. Some reservations are drawn so widely that their effect cannot be limited to specific provisions in the Convention.

For specific reservations by country, click here.

To download a PDF version of CEDAW/SP/2006/2: Declarations, reservations, objections and notifications of withdrawal of reservations relating to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, click on the preferred language link: [ A C E F R S]

Impermissible reservations

Article 28, paragraph 2, of the Convention adopts the impermissibility principle contained in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. It states that a reservation incompatible with the object and purpose of the present Convention shall not be permitted.

Although the Convention does not prohibit the entering of reservations, those which challenge the central principles of the Convention are contrary to the provisions of the Convention and to general international law. As such they may be challenged by other States parties.

Articles 2 and 16 are considered by the Committee to be core provisions of the Convention. Although some States parties have withdrawn reservations to those articles, the Committee is particularly concerned at the number and extent of reservations entered to those articles.

The Committee holds the view that article 2 is central to the objects and purpose of the Convention. States parties which ratify the Convention do so because they agree that discrimination against women in all its forms should be condemned and that the strategies set out in article 2, subparagraphs (a) to (g), should be implemented by States parties to eliminate it.

Neither traditional, religious or cultural practice nor incompatible domestic laws and policies can justify violations of the Convention. The Committee also remains convinced that reservations to article 16, whether lodged for national, traditional, religious or cultural reasons, are incompatible with the Convention and therefore impermissible and should be reviewed and modified or withdrawn.

Removing reservations

The Committee considers that those States parties which have entered reservations to the Convention have certain options open to them. According to the Special Rapporteur appointed by the International Law Commission to report on the law and practice relating to reservations to treaties a State party may:

(a) After having examined the finding in good faith, maintain its reservation;

(b) Withdraw its reservation;

(c) "Regularize" its situation by replacing its impermissible reservation with a permissible reservation;

(d) Renounce being a party to the Treaty.

To date, few reservations to article 2 have been withdrawn or modified by any State party and that reservations to article 16 are rarely withdrawn.

The role of the Committee

The Committee has certain responsibilities as the body of experts charged with the consideration of periodic reports submitted to it. The Committee, in its examination of States' reports, enters into constructive dialogue with the State party and makes concluding comments routinely expressing concern at the entry of reservations, in particular to articles 2 and 16, or the failure of States parties to withdraw or modify them.

The Special Rapporteur considers that control of the permissibility of reservations is the primary responsibility of the States parties. However, the Committee again wishes to draw to the attention of States parties its grave concern at the number and extent of impermissible reservations. It also expresses concern that, even when States object to such reservations there appears to be a reluctance on the part of the States concerned to remove and modify them and thereby comply with general principles of international law.

The Committee in two of the general recommendations and its statement on reservations has called on the States to re-examine their self-imposed limitations to full compliance with all the principles in the Convention by the entry of reservations. Removal or modification of reservations, particularly to articles 2 and 16, would indicate a State party's determination to remove all barriers to women's full equality and its commitment to ensuring that women are able to participate fully in all aspects of public and private life without fear of discrimination or recrimination. States which remove reservations would be making a major contribution to achieving the objectives of both formal and de facto or substantive compliance with the Convention.