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Human Rights Committee
28 March 2000

Statement by
Ms Angela King
Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women

Madam Chairperson,
Distinguished members of the Committee,

It is an honour to meet with you again, two years after I first had the opportunity of addressing this Committee. Today, I would like to bring to your attention several recent developments which I believe are of interest to this Committee.

As you all know, on 6 October last year, the General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It was opened for signature, ratification and accession in a signing ceremony on 10 December, Human Rights Day. As of today, 33 States have signed the Optional Protocol. Ten ratifications are needed for its entry into force. We expect that this will occur in the course of this year, as a number of those who have signed this new instrument have already started the parliamentary procedures required before ratification. The special session of the General Assembly on Beijing +5, entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century" in June, also constitutes a high-visibility event to strengthen support for ratification.

The Optional Protocol to the Women’s Convention contains two procedures: a communications procedure, and an inquiry procedure. In drafting this instrument, Member States were acutely aware of comparable existing procedures, in particular the first Optional Protocol under the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the communications procedures under the Convention against Torture (CAT), and the Racial Discrimination Convention, and the inquiry procedure under CAT. The result is a well-calibrated balance between these instruments, several of which had been drafted some time ago, and the progressive development of international law as reflected in the practice of the treaty bodies that apply them, and other fora. For example, the Optional Protocol explicitly provides for interim measures, which are not spelled out in the first Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, but which have been firmly established in the practice of this Committee.

The Optional Protocol also establishes a short-term and long-term follow-up mechanism to the Committee’s views and recommendations on a case, now a standard feature in the practice of your Committee. Among the innovations in the Optional Protocol are its articles 11 and 13, requiring States parties to ensure that individuals under their jurisdiction are not subjected to ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of communicating with the Committee under its procedures, and to make the Optional Protocol widely known, as well as to facilitate access to the Committee’s decisions thereunder, in particular on matters involving the State party. Lastly, article 17 explicitly states that no reservations shall be permitted to the Optional Protocol.

I would like to acknowledge with appreciation the contribution that several members of this Committee have made to the development of the Optional Protocol, in their personal capacity, when they met with the negotiators early in the process, in 1996 and 1997, to brief them on the practice of this Committee under the first optional protocol. The insights and comments of Professors Fausto Pocar and Cecilia Medina, Ms. Elizabeth Evatt and Mr. Rajsoomer Lallah, greatly enhanced the ability of Member States at the early stages of the drafting process to place their efforts within the larger framework of the international protection and promotion of human rights.

I am sure that all members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the treaty body called upon to implement this new instrument, will study very carefully the practice so skillfully developed by this Committee in the application of the first Optional Protocol. Your case law and practice will serve to guide the CEDAW Committee as it develops its own approaches to providing relief in individual cases of violations of rights protected by the Women’s Convention, and builds on the existing jurisprudence that brings concrete meaning to the international norm of gender equality to which your Committee has contributed so much. The Division for the Advancement of Women which services the Committee and will also support the Committee’s work under the Optional Protocol, will continue to seek the advice of the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in preparing the technical support for this new procedure.

I would briefly like to draw your attention to the workshop on gender integration into the human rights system, which was organized jointly by the DAW, the OHCHR and UNIFEM last May. That workshop was part of the ongoing work of the Division and other partners in the UN system to support the work of bodies and mechanisms with responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights in general to increase awareness about, and to strengthen capacity to address fully the human rights concerns of women within their mandates. We were very happy that the Chairpersons, or Vice-Chairpersons of all six human rights treaty bodies participated in the meeting. You, Mme. Chairperson, presented a case study on the practice of this Committee with regard to article 6 of the Covenant and its meaning from a gender perspective. We are very pleased with the report of the workshop, which has been distributed widely to Member States and members of treaty bodies.

Madam Chairperson,

I understand from this morning’s Journal that your Committee has just adopted a new general comment on article 3 of the Covenant, requiring States parties to ensure the equal right of women and men to the enjoyment of all the rights set out in the Covenant, and that you may finalize it at this session. This Committee has pioneered the preparation of general comments as authoritative understandings of the rights protected under the treaty, and the related obligations of States parties for their realization. These general comments have become essential tools for States striving to implement the Covenant, and for human rights advocates to hold Governments accountable to adhere to their international legal obligations. This new general comment on article 3 is being eagerly awaited by those who are working to ensure that full attention is given to the human rights of women in all fora so that they can bolster their work. Let me congratulate you and commend this Committee’s commitment to ensuring that the protective power of the Covenant fully extends to women and men alike.

Madam Chairperson,

Attention to the human rights of women, and women’s full enjoyment of all their human rights has grown remarkably in recent years. The situation of women in the framework of guarantees of equal enjoyment of rights and of non-discrimination is now being addressed largely as a matter of course. Growing attention is also given to situations that are specific to women, in particular violence against women in many manifestations. We are also seeing good progress in understanding the gendered nature of enjoyment of human rights, and that gender is an important dimension in defining the substantive nature of rights. Our work thus has to become increasingly sophisticated as we move into new areas, and as we try to find ways for translating into practice what we are clarifying conceptually. That practice, whether it is legislation, policies, or court cases at the domestic level, and reporting and individual complaints at the international level – will be strengthened by action such as your new general comment on article 3, the general comment on the gendered dimensions of racial discrimination adopted by that Committee, and, we hope, by workshops such as the one on gender integration of last May.

I would like to assure you that we will continue to follow very closely the work of this Committee to learn from it, and to ensure that the CEDAW Committee, as it embarks on its new responsibilities under the Optional Protocol is fully appraised of your practice under the Covenant, and your work in monitoring implementation through the reporting procedure. In turn, we would be happy to provide you, and your Secretariat, with any support you may seek in your ongoing responsibilities to ensure implementation of article 3 of the Covenant.

Thank you.