What is an Optional Protocol?


What is an Optional Protocol?

Very often, human rights treaties are followed by "Optional Protocols" which may either provide for procedures with regard to the treaty or address a substantive area related to the treaty. Optional Protocols to human rights treaties are treaties in their own right, and are open to signature, accession or ratification by countries who are party to the main treaty.

The optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women includes:

  • The Communications Procedure
    Gives individuals and groups of women the right to complain to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women about violations of the Convention.  this procedure is known as "the communications procedure". United Nations communications procedures provide the right to petition or the right to complain about violations of rights. Under all procedures, the complaint must be in writing.
  • The Inquiry Procedure
    It enables the Committee to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic abu 06-Nov-2006 e party to the Optional Protocol.  Known as an inquiry procedure, this capacity is found in article 8 of the Optional Protocol.

The optional protocol includes an inquiry procedure, as well as a complaints procedure. An inquiry procedure enables the Committee to conduct inquiries into serious and systematic abuses of women's human rights in countries that become States parties to the Optional Protocol. It is modelled on an existing human rights inquiry procedure, article 20 of the International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The inquiry procedure:

  • Allows investigation of substantial abuses of women's human rights by an international body of experts;
  • Is useful where individual communications fail to reflect the systemic nature of widespread violations of women's rights;
  • Allows widespread violations to be investigated where individuals or groups may be unable to make communications (for practical reasons or because of fear of reprisals);
  • Gives the Committee an opportunity to make recommendations regarding the structural causes of violations;
  • Allows the Committee to address a broad range of issues in a particular country.
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