Distinguished representatives of States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Committee experts, 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 and other staff of the Division.
I would like to welcome you to this first informal meeting of the Committee with States parties to the Convention. I would also like to thank States parties for showing their support to the Committee by attending this meeting today. In addition, I express, on the Committee’s behalf, its warm appreciation to States parties for showing their commitment to the work of the Committee by supporting its wish to hold a third exceptional session during 2002, to be used solely for the consideration of reports awaiting consideration by the Committee. During this session, which will take place from 5 to 23 August 2002, the Committee will consider the reports of eleven States parties. As States parties will be aware, in several cases more than on report of these States parties will be considered. This afternoon, I would like to provide a short briefing on the current status of the Convention and its Optional Protocol, and highlight developments in working methods of the Committee. After I have completed this briefing, I will give the floor to Ms. Angela King, and then Ms. Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women who will provide information on the possibility of the provision of technical assistance by the Division for the Advancement of Women to States parties on implementation of the Convention and particularly, fulfillment of the reporting obligation set out in article 18 of the Convention. Thereafter, an opportunity will be provided for States parties to pose questions and make observations to which members of the Committee will respond.
Currently 169 States are party to the Convention, the most recent State to ratify or accede to the Convention being the Solomon Islands which did so on 6 May 2002. Forty of these States are party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention, with a further 39 having signed this instrument. Of these, only one has opted out of the inquiry procedure established under article 8 of the Protocol. Thirty-two States parties to the Convention have accepted the amendment to article 20, paragraph 1 of the Convention relating to the Committee meeting time. I would like to recall that States parties to the Convention decided to replace this article which provides that the Committee shall “normally meet for a period of not more than two weeks annually” with the following: “The Committee shall normally meet annually in order to consider the reports submitted in accordance with article 18 of the present Convention. The duration of the meetings of the Committee shall be determined by a meeting of the States parties to the present Convention, subject to the approval of the General Assembly.”
The General Assembly took note with approval of the amendment in its resolution 50/202 of 22 December 1995, and urged States parties to the Convention to take appropriate measures so that acceptance by a two-thirds majority of States parties could be reached as soon as possible in order for the amendment to enter into force. The General Assembly has reiterated this request in successive resolutions relating to the Convention, most recently in its resolution 56/229 of 24 December 2001. On behalf of the Committee, I would like to emphasize the importance of this amendment and urge those States parties which wish to be advised of the technical requirements for acceptance to contact the Treaty Section of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs.
Turning to reporting under the Convention, I am pleased to inform States parties that following the exceptional session of the Committee in August, there will be no backlog of reports pending consideration. With regard to reports which have yet to be submitted, the Secretary-General’s report on the status of submission of reports by States parties under article 18 of the Convention (CEDAW/C/2002/II/2) indicates that as at 2 May 2002, 46 States parties had yet to submit initial reports, 61, second periodic reports, 42, third periodic reports, 49, fourth periodic reports and 43 their fifth periodic reports. In many cases, States parties had not submitted more than one report. I would like to draw States parties’ attention to the Committee’s decision 23/II in which it decided to invite States parties with overdue reports to combine these outstanding reports in a single document. I would also like to remind States parties of the possibility of provision of technical assistance with regard to reporting which Ms. King will address.
The Convention continues to be subject to a large number of reservations, although progress has been made in this area. Several States parties have modified or withdrawn reservations entirely. The Committee has adopted a statement on reservations which urges States parties to seek to avoid reservations, or formulate them as narrowly as possible and within the parameters of article 28 of the Convention which allows for reservations which are not in contravention to the object and purpose of the Convention.
The Committee keeps its working methods constantly under review. One of its standing agenda items is “ways and means of expediting the work of the Committee” and a report on this matter is prepared by the secretariat for each of its sessions. The Chairperson of the Committee participates in the annual meeting of chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies, and is actively involved in the preparations for that meeting. Along with two other members of the Committee, Ms. Ivanka Corti and Ms. Aida Gonzalez, I will participate in the first inter-committee meeting which will take place in Geneva at the end of this month. Most of the members of the Committee met in an informal seminar on working methods, made possible by the generosity of the Swedish Government, at the Raoull Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Lund, Sweden. As a result of discussions during this seminar, several modifications to the Committee’s working methods have been agreed during this session of the Committee. These include several relating to the consideration of reports by the Committee and constructive dialogue with States parties aimed at ensuring the best use of the time available to the Committee.
States parties will recall that those States which are presenting periodic reports receive a list of issues and questions drawn up by a working group at least two months before the consideration of their reports. States parties which are presenting periodic reports are required to submit written answers to this list in advance of the session so that they can be circulated to members of the committee prior to the session. This procedure allows the Committee and the State party to engage in a very fruitful dialogue when the report is presented. The basic format for the concluding comments of the Committee has also been modified and a strategy to encourage reporting by States parties has been devised. The Committee has also adopted revised guidelines for the reports of States parties which will apply to reports submitted after 31 December 2002. States parties may wish to note that the new guidelines provide guidance to States parties as to the composition of the delegation which should present reports, dissemination of concluding comments and the format of reports. States parties are urged to make their reports as concise as possible, and the guidelines indicate that initial reports should be no more than 100 pages and periodic reports 75 pages. The new reporting guidelines will be provided to States parties after the twenty-seventh session of the Committee.
Before I turn to developments with respect to the Optional Protocol to the Convention, I should like to recall the importance of the dissemination of the concluding comments of the Committee. The concluding comments are the Committee’s assessment of the current state of implementation of the Convention in the reporting State party. They point to achievements in implementation, and areas which require further attention and make concrete recommendations in this regard. They should be used by the State party as a guide for further implementation and should constitute the starting point for the next report. They should also be made widely available throughout States parties, including through, for example, translation into local languages. Each concluding comment contains a paragraph requesting dissemination, and we are aware that there have been several good practices in this area. Portugal, for example, which reported during January 2002, translated the concluding comments into the local language. It also held a workshop on the concluding comments for all stakeholders, including NGOS, and is in the process of formulation policies to take into account the recommendations in those concluding comments. I would urge States parties to consider imaginative ways in which the concluding comments can be widely known. I would also like to call on them to inform the Committee of any follow-up activities at the national level following the consideration of reports.
States parties will be aware that non-governmental organizations frequently play an active role in disseminating concluding comments, using them as a tool to create national dialogue on the implementation of the Convention. Non-governmental organizations are frequently closely involved in the preparation of the report of the State party. While the Committee underlines that reporting is the responsibility of the State party, involvement of NGOs in the process can also create a climate wherein the Convention is a living document and its implementation a joint project of the State party and entire civil society.
Progressive decisions by the Committee as well as its rules of procedure have created a role for NGOs in the reporting process. NGOs often provide information to individual experts, while opportunities are granted to NGOs to provide country specific information on implementation of the Convention both to the working group of the Committee which draws up the list of issues and questions on periodic reports, and also to the Committee as a whole. The Committee particularly welcomes the participation of national NGOs in these briefings. I wish to emphasize, however, that constructive dialogue on States parties reports is held strictly between the State party and the Committee
States parties will be aware that the Committee’s rules of procedure relating to the Optional Protocol were adopted by the Committee in January 2001. A working group of the Committee on the Optional Protocol was established by these rules, and a five person working group was appointed in January 2001. Ms. Hanna Beate Schöpp-Schilling was elected the chairperson of this group. The group has met in parallel to the Committee on one occasion and met for a full week in February 2002, immediately after the twenty-sixth session of the Committee. The Committee has adopted a guide for would-be petitioners under the Optional Protocol which is available on the website of the Division for the Advancement of Women. In collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights it has also developed an electronic database to track communications. At this stage, no communications have been received, but interest amongst non-governmental organizations is high and we expect a heavy workload.
In closing, distinguished delegates, I would like to emphasize the Committee’s desire to find opportunities to exchange views with States parties. Members are happy to make themselves available for national level activities on the Convention. Members participate in technical assistance activities organized by the Division for the Advancement of Women and other parts of the United Nations system. In the past months members have participated in such activities in Albania, the Northern Pacific and Tajikistan. The Committee is eager to have the Convention made known and used by national judiciaries.
In 1999, the Division organized “judicial colloquium on the use of the Convention by judges, and it will conduct a similar activity in co-operation with ESCAP in the latter part of the year. Members of the Committee routinely participate in these activities.
In closing, distinguished delegates, I would like to suggest that the meeting of States parties might provide another venue in which States parties might discuss matters of mutual interest. For example, the question of overdue reports could be taken up in this forum.
I would like now to give the floor to Ms. Angela King.
Ms. King, you have the floor.