Senior Human Rights Official, Opening Forty-ninth Session, Stresses Vital Role of Women’s Anti-discrimination Committee in Redressing Entrenched Ills

11 July 2011

Senior Human Rights Official, Opening Forty-ninth Session, Stresses Vital Role of Women’s Anti-discrimination Committee in Redressing Entrenched Ills

11 July 2011
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

 Discrimination against Women

977th Meeting (AM)

Senior Human Rights Official, Opening Forty-ninth Session, Stresses Vital Role

of Women’s Anti-discrimination Committee in Redressing Entrenched Ills


Assistant Secretary-General:  Widespread Impunity,

Weak Institutions Heighten Marginalization amid Changing Political Landscape

With the changing political landscape in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond as a backdrop, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had a vital role to play in redressing entrenched ills, including harmful traditional practices, sexual violence, persistent discrimination and a lack of access to education and employment, top United Nations human rights official Ivan Šimonović said today as he opened the treaty body’s forty-ninth session.

Mr. Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General in the New York Office of the Geneva-based United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said he had personally witnessed the realities faced by women in post-conflict situations during recent visits to Afghanistan, Iraq and Côte d’Ivoire, where inadequate governance, weak institutions and widespread impunity had weakened the rule of law and heightened the marginalization of women.

He warned that Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation process, which offered opportunities for change, also risked compromising the fundamental principles of impunity and restricting human rights, emphasizing that only by having women at the negotiating table would their right to shape their own future as equal partners be assured.  In Iraq, the “retraditionalization” of society and customs had negatively affected the rights of women, especially their participation in public life and freedom of movement and expression.  Meanwhile, it was essential that the transitional process in Côte d’Ivoire fully engage meaningful participation by women.

The Committee is one of nine treaty bodies monitoring key United Nations human rights conventions.  Its 23 expert members, who serve in their personal capacity, oversee implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, considering reports submitted by States parties as well as individual complaints or communications.  The forty-ninth session runs until 29 July.

Mr. Šimonović said the process of strengthening the expanding United Nations treaty body system was important and timely, recalling that since its last session, the Committee had held consultations with civil society members and States.  The former had demanded that all treaty bodies align their engagement procedures, while the latter’s key message had been one of austerity and self-discipline, particularly in respect to such “non-mandated activities” as follow-up procedures and the development of general recommendations or comments.

He said that, to address sexual violence against women in conflict and post-conflict situations — an issue that had gained prominence in the Security Council — the Team of Experts established by Council resolution 1888 (2009) for that purpose was now fully operational and included a member from the Office of the High Commissioner.  It had carried out assessments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and South Sudan, he added.

Mr. Šimonović noted that the Office of the High Commissioner had produced — jointly with the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the United Nations Action against Sexual Violence Network — a guidance note on the establishment of monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements at the field level.  The High Level Panel on Remedies and Reparations for Victims of Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose report had been launched in March 2011, recognized the importance of a victim-centred approach.

Committee Chairperson Silvia Pimentel, expert from Brazil, noted that the Committee had a “very full, but interesting agenda during this session”, with members considering the periodic reports of Costa Rica, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Italy, Nepal, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Zambia.  Cases under the Optional Protocol to the Convention would also be examined.

She went on to say that discussions would be held on the draft general recommendation on the economic consequences of marriage and its dissolution, the draft joint general recommendation on harmful practices, and the draft general recommendation on access to justice.  The Committee would also consider reports and information received under its follow-up procedure to concluding observations, in addition to meeting with non-governmental organizations.

Presenting the Chairperson’s report on developments since the forty-eighth session in January, she said the number of States parties to the Convention had reached 187 with Nauru’s accession on 20 May.  Albania, Czech Republic, Nauru and Kuwait had all deposited their instruments of acceptance of the amendment to the Convention, which had 64 Contracting States.  Ghana and the Seychelles had deposited their instruments of ratification to the Optional Protocol on 3 February and 1 March, respectively, bringing the number of States parties to 102.

Reporting on the Chairperson’s activities, she said she had travelled to New York to address the fifty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women on 22 February.  A report on the forty-sixth, forty-seventh and forty-eighth sessions had been prepared and provided both to the Commission and the General Assembly.  The Secretary-General’s report on the Status of the Convention for the August 2009-July 2011 period had also been transmitted to the Assembly.

Among other activities, she recalled that she had met with the Executive Director of UN Women to discuss cooperation, and had attended the twelfth Inter-Committee Meeting, from 27 to 29 June, and the twenty-third Meeting of Chairpersons, from 30 June to 1 July, which had both focused on the structure of dialogue between States parties and treaty bodies; the structure of concluding observations; the mode of interaction between treaty bodies and stakeholders; and the report of the Inter-Committee Meeting working group on follow-up to concluding observations, decisions on individual complaints and inquiries.

Violeta Neubauer, expert from Slovenia and Chair of the pre-session working group for the forty-ninth session, presented the report on its meeting held from 25-29 October 2010, saying that lists of issues and questions had been prepared for countries under consideration at the present session.  Particular attention had been paid to States parties’ follow-up to the Committee’s concluding observations on previous reports, she said, adding that the lists had been transmitted to the States parties concerned.

Dubravka Šimonović, expert from Croatia, then briefed the Committee on the status of follow-up reports to concluding observations made under article 18 of the Convention, noting that reports had been received from Azerbaijan, Portugal, Iceland and Kyrgyzstan.  Only the first three would be considered during the current session, as Kyrgyzstan’s report had been submitted too late for translation, she said.  It would be considered at the next session, as would Denmark’s report.

In other business, the Committee welcomed Maria Helena Lopes de Jesus Pires, expert from Timor-Leste, as a new member.  It also adopted its provisional agenda and organization of work for the current session.

Also taking part in today’s discussion were Committee expert members Nicole Ameline ( France), Magalys Arocha Dominguez ( Cuba), Ruth Halperin-Kaddari ( Israel), Yoko Hayashi ( Japan), Naela Mohamed Gabr ( Egypt), Olinda Bareiro-Bobadilla ( Paraguay), Ayse Feride Acar ( Turkey) and Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani ( Algeria).

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 July, to begin its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Costa Rica.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.