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Twenty-second session of the Committee on
Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

Statement by Ms. Angela E.V. King
Asistant Secretary-General
Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues
and Advancement of Women
UN Headquarters, New York, 17 January 2000

Madame Chairperson,

Distinguished Members of the Committee,

Members of the Agencies and NGOs,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour and privilege to open the twenty-second session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and to welcome you to United Nations Headquarters and New York. I am especially pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you just after the world-wide celebrations which ushered in the twenty-first century, and less than a month after the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

I am delighted to report to you on the highlights of the period between the opening of this session and the closing of your twenty-first session, and particularly on the adoption of the optional protocol to the Convention. As you know, on 6 October 1999, the plenary of the General Assembly adopted resolution 54/4 on the optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in which it adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession the optional protocol to the Convention which had been finalized by the Open-ended Working Group of the Commission on the Status of Women in March 1999. The adoption of the optional protocol by the General Assembly represented the translation of the commitments of the international community at both the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women into reality.

On 10 December, 1999, the last Human Rights Day of the twentieth century, the optional protocol was opened for signature. I am happy to inform members that during a very moving signing ceremony held at noon on that day, 23 States signed the optional protocol, while another State signed later on the same day. Since then, a further State has signed the protocol . This, brings the total number of States which have indicated by signature that they are seriously considering ratification or accession of the instrument to 24. Indeed, one State has informed the Division that all procedures that are required at national level prior to ratification have been completed and that its instrument of ratification will be lodged with the Secretary-General shortly.

Madam Chairperson,

I am also very pleased to inform you that the Convention and the optional protocol, and their significance for women, were the focus of a panel discussion in which the Secretary-General of the United Nations participated. Other participants in the panel were Ms. Aloisia Woergetter, the Chairperson of the Open-ended Working Group on the Optional Protocol ; Mr. Bacre Waly Ndaiye, Director, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Sujata Manohar, former judge of the Supreme Court of India, Ms. Fauzjia Kassindja and the Chairperson of the Committee, Ms. Aída González-Martínez. A joint statement on the optional protocol was also issued by Mrs. Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and myself which has been posted on the Womenwatch website, as well as on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I am sure that members of the Committee will be gratified that Human Rights Day 1999 was squarely focussed on the optional protocol in this way.

Although the adoption of the optional protocol and its opening for signature, accession and ratification were perhaps the most important events relating to the Convention and the Committee that took place in the period since we last met, both were the subject of other activities of the Division.

Statements made by most delegations who spoke during the debates in the Third Committee of the General Assembly highlighted the Convention and the work of the Committee and welcomed the adoption of the optional protocol. In its resolution 54/137 adopted by the General Assembly on the Convention, the Assembly welcomed the progress made in implementation of the Convention since its adoption twenty years previously, but also acknowledged the continuing challenges that remain. It commended the Committee on its contributions to effective implementation of the Convention. As in previous years, the Assembly urged States to limit the extent of any reservations they lodge to the Convention and to withdraw reservations that are contrary to the object and purpose of the Convention or that are otherwise incompatible with treaty law. At the same time the Assembly expressed satisfaction that some reservations have been withdrawn and that some States parties have modified the extent of their reservations.

Madam Chairperson,

I am pleased to report that since the last session of the Committee, two States, Niger and Tuvalu, have become party to the Convention, thus bringing the number of States which have accepted the Convention to 165. As you are all aware, the Beijing Platform for Action set the year 2000 as the target for universal ratification of the Convention. I share the view held by most delegations to the Third Committee of the fifty-fourth session of the General Assembly that this target is still realistic, but its achievement will require imaginative strategies and concerted efforts.

I would like to inform members that due to his keen personal interest, the Secretary-General wrote to all States which had not ratified the Convention requesting them to consider this before the end of 2000. In accordance with your explicit request last session I would also like to inform you of several of my activities as Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women to encourage ratification or accession by those States which are still not party to the Convention. On 15 October 1999, during the fifty-fourth session of the General Assembly, with the assistance of the Chairperson of the Committee, I convened a meeting of the States which were not party to the Convention in order to provide information and offer assistance with regard to ratification. This meeting proved very successful, and States discussed their concerns in an open and frank fashion. Following the meeting, I wrote to delegations offering any assistance that might be required in this context. In December, I convened a similar meeting of 5 delegations during the Regional Meeting in Follow-up to UN Global Conferences in ESCWA in Beirut, 29 November-1 December which I also followed up with letters offering assistance and the possibility of holding a workshop for these States. I am committed to further efforts to encourage ratification, particularly during this important year. I would also urge members to lend their assistance in any way they can to the task of achieving universal acceptance of the Convention.

I have also engaged in efforts to encourage wider acceptance by States parties to the Convention to the amendment to article 20.1 of the Convention. As members will know, the amendment will enter into force when it has been accepted by a two-thirds majority of States parties. Currently, only 23 States parties have accepted the amendment, with the most recent being Turkey on 9 December 1999. Again, I would urge all members to disseminate information about the amendment and encourage its acceptance.

Madam Chairperson,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the activities organized by the Division for the Advancement of Women in the period since the twenty-second session of the Committee was the Judicial Colloquium on the application of international human rights law at the domestic law which was held at the United Nations Office at Vienna to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Almost 100 judges and magistrates from all regions and from various legal cultures and traditions attended the colloquium. I am pleased to inform you that

Ms. Emna Aouij attended the colloquium as a resource person and that the Chairperson sent a special message. The three days of the Colloquium were enormously stimulating and energizing and began a network of judges and other judicial officers dedicated to the advancement of the rights of women and girls through international legal standards. The Colloquium issued a Communiqué which is available in English, French and Spanish and which has been disseminated widely and has been made available to members. We are currently compiling the presentations made at the Colloquium which we hope will be published and available for members at the twenty-third session in June this year.

Another important effort by the Division during this time was a sub-regional training workshop on preparing initial reports required under the Convention which took place in Cotonou, Benin in July. Ms. Ahoua Ouedraogou was a resource person to the workshop which was attended by nine countries in francophone Africa, most of which had not presented initial reports. Following the workshop, Ms. Ouedraogou returned to Benin for meetings with officials responsible for preparing the CEDAW report. Both the workshop and the Ms. Oudraougou’s follow-up mission to Benin have been highly praised and other States parties have requested similar assistance.

Madame Chairperson,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

During June this year the Special Session of the General Assembly on Beijing+5 will be convened. Preparatory meetings for the Special Session have been convened by the Regional Commissions of the United Nations. I am pleased to report that I attended two such meetings: the Sixth African Regional Conference on Women to assess progress in the implementation of the Beijing and Dakar Platforms for Action, held from

22-26 November in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the Arab Conference on Integrated Follow-up to the United Nations Global Conferences held from 29 November –

1 December in Beirut, Lebanon. Ms. Carolyn Hannan, a principal officer in the Office of the Special Adviser and Advancement of Women attended, on my behalf, the High Level Intergovernmental Meeting to Review the Regional Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action held from 26 to 29 October in Bangkok, Thailand. Each of these meetings emphasized the importance of full realization of the human rights of women and girls, the centrality of the Convention and the importance of universal ratification and the withdrawal of reservations. Significant support was also expressed for the rapid entry into force of the optional protocol.

During this week, the Economic Commission for Europe is meeting in Geneva to assess implementation of the Platform for Action in that region and early next month the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean will meet for the same purpose. As you will be aware, the Commission on the Status of Women serving as the preparatory committee for the Special Session will meet for a three week period beginning on 28 February 2000. I am sure that members will be very interested in the preparations for the Special Session and Ms. Ertürk, the Director of the Division, who is currently in Geneva at the ECE meeting has indicated that she will be delighted to brief you on all matters concerning the Special Session and the up-coming Commission on the Status of Women when she returns next week.

Madam Chairperson,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The task before you at this session is not an easy one. You have reports from eight States parties to consider. You are also reviewing your rules of procedure and beginning your discussion of the procedures that you will employ when the optional protocol enters into force. Although onerous, your task is rewarding and has made a difference to the lives of many women.

On behalf of the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs,

Mr Nitin Desai, and the Director of the Division, I offer the full the support and commitment of the Division for the Advancement of Women.

I wish you well, a happy Millenium and I wish you every success in your deliberations and a pleasant stay in New York "and you know of course that you have the full support of myself and my office."