17 January 2006
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Opens Current Session, Hearing Statements by Secretary-General's Special Adviser, Division Director, Committee Chair
Expert Stresses Need for Protection of Committee Members from State Intervention
NEW YORK, 16 January (UN Headquarters) -- As the Committee responsible for the monitoring of the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women opened its three-week session this morning, the Organization's top official responsible for the advancement of women encouraged its 23 members to build on their past efforts and use the momentum of change and reform to strengthen their own contribution to the goal of achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Addressing the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Rachel Mayanja, recalled the historic consensus of the 2005 World Summit, where Heads of State and Government had reaffirmed the goals and objectives of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly. The commitments of the world leaders were, indeed, a firm basis for moving ahead. The challenge was to translate them into reality, building on the gains made so far, she stressed.
Since the Committee's last meeting, the Security Council had held an open debate on women, peace and security, to mark the fifth anniversary of its resolution 1325, she added. Since the adoption of that text, the image of women as solely victims of war had shifted to recognition of their role as peacemakers, peacebuilders and negotiators. That had been demonstrated in such countries as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Timor-Leste. In many instances, the Convention had been a powerful tool for women advocating for change. She also noted the important links the Committee had made, especially in recent sessions, between implementation of States' international legal obligations under the Convention and their follow-up on the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Declaration.
She also described her mission to the Sudan in September last year, saying that every opportunity must be used to encourage the Government of that country to accede to the Convention. The Committee had also long taken a very active interest in the situation of women migrant workers, and she had attended the International Conference for Women Leaders on migration and gender issues within the Millennium Development Goals, in Israel.
She was extremely pleased that the Assembly had approved the Committee's request for additional meetings to reduce the backlog of reports. While that decision demonstrated the importance that Member States attached to the Convention, it had not been an easy one, given the financial constraints and many competing priority areas. The membership expected that the resources provided would enable the Committee to eliminate the backlog of reports.
In that connection, Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, said that the Assembly had authorized the Committee to hold three annual sessions of three weeks each, with one-week pre-sessional working groups; to meet, on an exceptional and temporary basis, in 2006 and 2007 for up to seven days in parallel working groups; and to convene two annual sessions of the Working Group on Communications under the Optional Protocol to the Convention. Among other things, that would allow the Committee to double the number of States it would consider in 2006 and 2007.
In her opening statement, Ms. Hannan said that, while the number of States parties to the Convention had remained unchanged, three more States -- Burkina Faso, San Marino and South Africa -- had become party to the Optional Protocol. [The Optional Protocol provides for a petition and inquiry procedure concerning women's rights violations in States parties to the Convention and Protocol.] As for an amendment to the Convention on the Committee's meeting time, acceptances were made by Georgia and Liberia, bringing the total to 47 States. Also, as a follow-up to the Committee's concluding comments on Kuwait from its thirtieth session, that country had withdrawn its reservation relating to article 7(a) of the Convention.
Speaking on the Division's activities undertaken since the last session, Ms. Hannan drew attention to a workshop held in Cairo, Egypt, from 19 to 22 December 2005, to follow up on the observations of the Convention's Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Division also collaborated with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to facilitate the systematic use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to enhance dissemination of national data on gender equality issues; improve networking at subregional and regional levels for sharing experience and good practices among national machineries; and increase the involvement in the preparations for the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in 2005. At that Summit, the Division had organized a panel of national machineries that endorsed the development of an e-based regional network and discussed a framework for future actions to ensure effective use of ICTs at the national level.
Regarding the upcoming fiftieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, she said that it would focus on the enhanced participation of women in development: an enabling environment for achieving gender equality and the advancement of women, taking into account education, health and work; and equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels. The Division had convened two expert meetings, in Addis Ababa in October 2005, and in Bangkok in November 2005, in preparation of those themes.
The Committee's Chairperson, Rosario G. Manalo, updated members on her activities since the last session, including a briefing to the Assembly on the Committee's first decision on the merits of a case under the Optional Protocol, and the publication of the results of the Committee's first inquiry under article 8 of the Optional Protocol with regard to Mexico. She also drew attention to the Committee's statements at the 10-year review and appraisal of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action and the December 2004 South-East Asia Tsunami.
On future issues to be discussed by the Committee, Ms. Manalo said she had maintained contact with several experts to develop, among others, a future general recommendation on women migrant workers. In addition, the Committee must organize the meetings of its parallel working groups in August, as well as undertake preparations to assist States in preparing their responses to the issues and questions for that session. Ms. Manalo added that Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights, would be addressing the Committee on 27 January 2006.
As it adopted its agenda and organization of work for the thirty-fourth session, the Committee agreed to examine the reports of the following eight States parties: Australia, Cambodia, Eritrea, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mali, Thailand, Togo and Venezuela. In accordance with established practice, the Committee will also meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations to hear information about the countries reporting at the session.
During the session, the Committee will also continue its work under 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 to the Convention and the Optional Protocol. The work would also continue on a general recommendation on article 2 of the Convention. The Committee intended to consider ways to enhance its interaction with United Nations entities and national human rights institutions, and discuss the question of women migrant workers.
Christine Brautigam, Chief of the Women's Rights Section, introduced agenda items on the implementation of article 21 of the Convention and on ways and means to expedite the Committee's work. On the latter, she said that guidelines for interaction with national human rights institutions and United Nations entities were provided in its "ways and means" report, which also discussed guidelines for future sessions. Some 60 countries now awaited consideration for presentation of their reports at the thirty-sixth session, not including eight States that would be considered at the present session. There were 17 States with reports overdue for more than 10 years.
Victoria Popescu, Chairperson of the pre-session working group, introduced the report of that body to the Committee.
Also today, stressing the need to protect members of the Committee from "immoral intervention", one of its experts, Krisztina Morvai of Hungary, remarked on an attempt by the Government of Israel to intervene with the independence and integrity of members of the Committee. She had personally been targeted by a letter to the Chair of the Committee and the Secretariat after some critical remarks she had made during the consideration of the implementation of the Convention in Israel regarding Palestinian (Arab) female citizens of Israel and the situation of women in unrecognized Bedouin villages and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Her Government had also been approached. Subsequently, she had been notified that she had not been nominated for the next four-year term on the Committee. As an "interesting coincidence", she noted that the new Hungarian nominee was a founding member and leader of a Zionist Jewish women's association in Hungary.
Another expert, Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani of Algeria, expressed solidarity with that position. Following a proposal by Hanna Beate Schopp-Schilling of Germany, the Committee's Chairperson said that the matter would be taken up in a closed session.
The Committee will begin its consideration of Togo's reports at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 18 January.
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