6 July 2005

Real-Life Benefits Must Be Guiding Principle in Gauging How Women Can Gain from September Summit, Anti-Discrimination Committee Told

Opening Thirty-Third Session, Special Adviser on Gender Issues Stresses Need to Tackle Systemic Roots of Inequality

NEW YORK, 5 July (UN Headquarters) -- With many competing interests, demands, hopes and expectations vying for attention in the weeks leading up to the 2005 World Summit, the paramount guiding principle must be the benefit that women on the ground, in their daily lives, would be able to gain from the discussions and decisions to be taken, the opening meeting of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women heard this morning.

Addressing the 23-member Committee mandated to monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women as it started its thirty-third session, Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, stressed that those interests had always been paramount to the work of the Committee, which had worked tirelessly and diligently to highlight the specific areas of concern in each of the States parties that came before it for a constructive dialogue about their compliance with the Convention.

She said that the approach the Committee had developed towards gender equality, as reflected in its general recommendations, statements and concluding comments, made it very clear that States parties to the Convention were obliged to tackle the structural causes of discrimination against women.  Only by challenging the ingrained and systemic roots of women’s inequality would true equality with men be realized.  Achieving that goal required action at many different levels, and by all stakeholders, since a purely formal legal or programmatic approach was not sufficient to achieve women’s de facto equality with men.  Equality of results was the logical corollary of de facto substantive equality.

Noting that the Committee’s session overlapped with the substantive session of the Economic and Social Council, whose deliberations would make a critical contribution to the World Summit in September, Ms. Mayanja also tied the Committee’s work with the Secretary-General’s proposals to revitalize the United Nations human rights machinery.  In May 2005, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, had launched her plan of action, entitled “Protection and Empowerment”, which made it clear that she wished to take a more proactive and engaged role with United Nations human rights bodies, including the treaty bodies.  Short-term measures, such as the use of harmonized guidelines on reporting, would allow the treaty bodies to function as a unified system.  In that context, the High Commissioner had also proposed transferring the responsibility of supporting the Convention to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In the long term, the plan of action included the creation of a unified standing treaty body, she continued.  In developing proposals in that regard, serious discussions would be required with Committee members, States parties, United Nations system entities, non-governmental organizations and other civil society actors, such as national human rights institutions.  The Committee would have the opportunity to discuss those issues further and given its expertise in the promotion and protection of women’s rights, its members should make a contribution to the reform process under way. The Organization on the whole was undergoing change.  Their active and constructive participation would be a service both to the women of the world and to the Organization.

In her opening statement, Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, said that since the Committee’s last session in January, Monaco had acceded to the Convention, with reservations, bringing the total number of ratifications to 180.  In January, Cameroon had become the seventy-first State to accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which provides for a petition and an inquiry procedure regarding violations of the rights of women in States parties.  Among the seven human rights treaties, the Convention thus remained the instrument with the second highest number of ratifications/accessions, but was still short of universal ratification.

Highlighting recent developments that had a bearing on the Committee’s work, she focused on the outcome of the forty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women and the activities implemented by the Division for the Advancement of Women since January.  Many of the 134 States that had provided responses to the Division’s questionnaire, distributed in preparation for the Commission’s session, had referred to the Convention as a critical component of their follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action.  The declaration adopted by the Commission recognized that the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action and the fulfilment of obligations under the Convention were mutually reinforcing in achieving gender equality and empowerment for women.

One of the 10 resolutions adopted by the Commission would require the experts’ specific input, she said.  The subject matter was the advisability of the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on laws that discriminated against women, bearing in mind existing mechanisms with a view to avoiding duplication.  The Committee would consider that issue at its fiftieth session in 2006, and in preparing the report on the matter, the Division would solicit contributions from its members, as well as from relevant United Nations bodies.

Among the Division’s other activities, she mentioned work on the Secretary-General’s in-depth study on violence against women, which would be issued at the General Assembly’s sixty-first session, and several initiatives to support States parties in their efforts to implement the Convention, including a programme of technical cooperation that included assistance to post-conflict countries.  In the past three years, some 55 judges from 29 countries had participated in the Division’s judicial colloquia and over 70 government officials from 37 countries had participated in its training workshops.

In collaboration with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), she said, the Division had convened a three-day judicial colloquium on the application of international human rights law at the domestic level on 25-27 May in Santiago, Chile.  A training workshop for government officials on implementation and reporting under the Convention had been held after the colloquium.  In addition, as part of its efforts to develop training materials, the Division was working on a manual on the implementation of the Convention.

The Committee’s Chairperson, Rosario G. Manalo, updated its members on her activities since the last session, which included her participation in the latest session of the Commission on the Status of Women.  Most recently, accompanied by two members of the Committee, she had attended the fourth Inter-Committee Meeting on 20-22 June.  She had also taken part in the seventeenth meeting of the Chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies, which had taken place on 23-24 June in Geneva.

Among the main issues discussed during the Inter-Committee Meeting were proposals for harmonized guidelines on reporting under the international human rights treaties and guidelines for an expanded core document and treaty-specific targeted reports, she said.  Also discussed were reservations to treaties, terminology, follow-up to concluding observations and national human rights institutions.  The Committee would have an opportunity to follow up on those issues in closed meetings during its current session.  The ICM had also met with the High Commissioner for Human Rights who had briefed on her plan of action. 

Ms. Arbour had also accepted Ms. Manalo’s invitation to hold a dialogue with the Committee, possibly during its thirty-fourth session in January 2006.

Among the events held during the Chairpersons’ meeting, she mentioned in particular the informal dialogue with States parties, which had been attended by more than 80 States.  Much of the discussion had concentrated on the proposed common core document and the congruent substantive provisions of the treaties, as well as the High Commissioner’s proposals for a standing unified treaty body.  Once again, she had stressed that before considering moving the Committee from New York to Geneva, the Member States should take into account that the Convention had been prepared by the Commission on the Status of Women and should, therefore, be consulted before action was taken.  The Chairpersons had also met with the expanded Bureau of the sixty-first session of the Commission on Human Rights for an exchange of views on ways to strengthen the dialogue between the treaty bodies and the Commission, as well as the reform proposals.

Acting on its agenda and organization of work for the next two weeks, the Committee agreed that from 5 to 22 July, it would examine the progress achieved in the implementation of the Convention by the following eight States parties to that instrument:  Benin, Burkina Faso, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Gambia, Guyana, Ireland, Israel and Lebanon.  Members of the Committee -- independent experts acting in their personal capacity -- would also continue their work under the Optional Protocol to the Convention, and representatives of non-governmental organizations would have the opportunity to address the Committee this afternoon and on Monday, 11 July.

Also today, Christine Brautigam, Chief of the Women’s Rights Section, introduced agenda items on the implementation of article 21 of the Convention and  on ways to expedite the Committee’s work.  Salma Khan, Chairperson of the pre-session working group, introduced that body’s report.

The Committee is expected to take up Israel’s third periodic report at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 6 July.

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