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COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN OPENS FIFTY-THIRD SESSION
High Commissioner for Human Rights Addresses the Committee
1 October 2012

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning opened its fifty-third session, hearing a statement from Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and adopting its agenda and programme of work for the session.

Ms. Pillay congratulated the Committee on its thirtieth anniversary this year and said that for over 30 years, the Committee had established itself as an authoritative standard-setting body and a source of interpretation and guidance on how to implement women’s rights. She updated the Committee on the treaty body strengthening process, which was taking place in an increasingly difficult global economic environment that had compelled a budget cut of 7.5 per cent across the United Nations and had a direct impact on treaty bodies, including staffing, and the decision to move the Committee’s July session from New York to Geneva.

The High Commissioner warned that the worst was yet to come; preliminary indications were that the 2013 shortfall would be as least as great as 2012’s shortfall and Committees needed to review their working methods and priorities, and to better justify their use of resources.

In other updates the High Commissioner said that her Office recently adopted a Gender Equality Strategic Plan for 2012 to 2013 that would mainstream a gender perspective into working methods and outputs, and had implemented a programme on women’s access to justice, designed to foster gender-sensitive service delivery, unbiased judicial decision-making and constitutional and legal reform, thereby boosting women’s capacity to claim their rights. At the twenty-first session of the Human Rights Council, Ms. Pillay said she highlighted concerns regarding women’s rights violations in a number of country situations, including the on-going conflict in Syria, and presented a report on reducing preventable maternal mortality and morbidity which drew heavily from the Committee’s work.

Silvia Pimentel, Chairperson of the Committee, said that the Committee had a very full but interesting agenda for the session, in which it would consider five States parties reports; Chile, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Comoros and Turkmenistan. The Committee would consider cases under the Optional Protocol, review and adopt its draft general recommendation on the economic consequences of marriage and its dissolution, and endorse a concept note on the general recommendation on rural women. It would also consider reports and information received under its follow-up procedure, and working methods as well as meet with many non-governmental organizations, representatives of national human rights institutions, members of the United Nations family and other stakeholders, including the Human Rights Committee. Further, the Committee would discuss the move of its July session from New York to Geneva for budgetary reasons, an issue it had not been consulted on, and felt strongly about.

Also speaking this morning was Violeta Neubauer, Chairperson of the Pre-Session Working Group, for the fifty-third session, and Barbara Bailey, Rapporteur on Follow-Up, in addition to a number of Committee members.

The Committee will next convene in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions from States to be reviewed during the session.

Opening Address by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

NAVI PILLAY, High Commissioner for Human Rights, congratulated the Committee on its thirtieth anniversary this year. For over 30 years the Committee had established itself as an authoritative standard-setting body and a source of interpretation and guidance on how to implement women’s rights. To celebrate the Committee’s progress and map out its work ahead a publication entitled ’30 Years Working for Women’s Rights’ had been issued which would serve as a resource tool for States and other stakeholders. The High Commissioner thanked the International Organization of the Francophonie for its support in making the publication available in French and for co-organizing its launch, which would take place on 18 October. The High Commissioner also recognized the generosity of the Turkish Government in hosting a thirtieth anniversary event in November in Istanbul to mark the occasion.

The High Commissioner updated the Committee on the treaty body strengthening process, which culminated with the release of her report on enhancing the system in June. The Committee had played an active role in the process and some of its working methods were highlighted as good practice in the report. However, Ms. Pillay said, the process was taking place in an increasingly difficult global economic environment: voluntary donations to the United Nations had begun to decline and while mandated activities of her Office should be fully financed by the regular budget approved by the General Assembly, they were chronically under-resourced. The financial crisis had compelled a budget cut of 7.5 per cent across the board, which had a direct impact on treaty bodies, including staffing. Against that background the decision was made to move the Committee’s July session from New York to Geneva. The High Commissioner warned that the financial situation was extremely onerous and the worst was yet to come; preliminary indications were that the 2013 shortfall would be as least as great as 2012’s shortfall. While the Office would do its utmost to continue to provide the best service to the treaty bodies, the Committees also needed to review their working methods and priorities, perhaps limiting themselves to working on only one or two general comments at a time, and to better justify their use of resources.

In other updates the High Commissioner said that her Office recently adopted a Gender Equality Strategic Plan for 2012 to 2013 that would mainstream a gender perspective into working methods and outputs. The Office recently joined with United Nations Women and the United Nations Development Programme to implement a programme on women’s access to justice, designed to foster gender-sensitive service delivery, unbiased judicial decision-making and constitutional and legal reform, thereby boosting women’s capacity to claim their rights. In her address to the twenty-first session of the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner said she highlighted concerns regarding women’s rights violations in a number of country situations, including the on-going conflict in Syria. She had also presented a report on reducing preventable maternal mortality and morbidity which drew heavily from the Convention and the Committee’s work.

The High Commissioner was pleased that various Special Procedure mandate holders had made references to women’s rights during the Council, including the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, who emphasized that States must adopt a holistic approach to addressing gender-related killings of women. The Independent Expert on the human rights of internally displaced persons expressed concern for the estimated 1.5 million people, including many women and children, internally displaced by the conflict in Syria, as well as particularly vulnerable displaced people in Côte d’Ivoire, such as single female-headed households. In a related update the High Commissioner announced that Tunisia had accepted a visit from the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice in November. Finally, she was pleased to note the Secretary-General’s recent appointment of Zainab Hawa Bangura of Sierra Leone as his new Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict, who would participate in the Committee’s thirtieth anniversary event on 18 October.

Report of the Chairperson

SILVIA PIMENTEL, Committee Chairperson, began by highlighting the special commemorative event of the Committee’s thirtieth anniversary which would be held on 18 October. Turning to the Convention, Ms. Pimentel reported that the number of States parties remained at 187, but that in July Thailand withdrew its reservation to article 16 of the Convention, on matters relating to marriage and family relations. The number of States parties to the Optional Protocol remained at 104. Highlighting inter-sessional activities undertaken in her role as Chairperson, Ms. Pimentel said that in August she attended a national forum on violence against women in Brazil, held six years after the Maria de Penha Law on domestic and family violence. In the same month Ms. Pimentel spoke at a major event in Brazil entitled ‘Women Who Build’ about tools to strengthen women’s civil and political participation.

The Committee had a very full but interesting agenda for the session, in which it would consider five States parties reports; Chile, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Comoros and Turkmenistan. Regrettably the Government of Serbia had informed the secretariat that it would not be able to present its report this session as scheduled due to very recent changes in the Government. The Committee would also consider cases under the Optional Protocol to the Convention. Ms. Pimentel noted that at the Committee’s fifty-second session in New York the Committee adopted a recommendation in relation to the merits of a communication Isatou Jallow v Bulgaria, submitted by a Gambian woman and her minor daughter living in Bulgaria, who were victims of domestic violence. The woman claimed that the State party did not provide her and her husband with the same protection from domestic violence, as her husband’s application under the national legislation against domestic violence was duly considered while hers was ignored. The Committee found the situation in her favour, and also found that the State party failed to take appropriate measures under the Convention, and further that court proceedings were unreasonably prolonged and also violated the State party’s obligations under the Convention.

Other activities scheduled for the session included the review of the draft general recommendation on the economic consequences of marriage and its dissolution with a view towards its adoption at the session. The Committee would be briefed on progress with respect to other draft general recommendations, and endorse a concept note on the general recommendation on rural women. It would also consider reports and information received under its follow-up procedure, and working methods. Meetings would be held with many non-governmental organizations, representatives of national human rights institutions, members of the United Nations family and other stakeholders, in addition to a meeting with the Human Rights Committee. Further, the Committee would discuss the move of its July session from New York to Geneva for budgetary reasons, an issue it had not been consulted on. The Committee felt strongly about maintaining the session in New York and had wide support from civil society in that regard.

Report of the Chairperson of the Pre-session Working Group for the Fifty-third Session

VIOLETA NEUBAUER, Chairperson of the Pre-Session Working Group, said the group met from 5 to 9 March 2012 in Geneva and prepared lists of issues and questions with respect to the following States parties: Chile, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Serbia, Togo and Turkmenistan. The group also considered the list of issues previously adopted for the Central African Republic and adopted a revised version, in the absence of a report. Ms. Neubauer noted that the Central African Republic had subsequently submitted its report prior to the current session and as such the consideration was postponed. The lists of issues and questions were transmitted to the States parties concerned and focused on themes addressed by the Convention.

Report by the Rapporteur on Follow-Up

BARBARA BAILEY, Rapporteur on Follow-Up, said that during the fifty-second session she met with representatives of Nigeria and Tuvalu to remind them to send their follow-up reports, and received positive responses. At the end of that session follow-up letters outlining the outcome of assessments were sent to Madagascar, Mongolia, Rwanda and Uruguay, and first reminders of overdue reports were sent to Botswana, Egypt, Haiti, Libya, Malawi, Panama, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan. The Committee had received follow-up reports – some delayed – from Fiji, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Switzerland, Timor Leste, Tanzania, Turkey and Ukraine. As those reports had not yet been translated they would be assessed at the fifty-fourth session. During the current session a first reminder would be sent to Papua New Guinea and a second reminder to Lao People’s Democratic Republic. In addition meetings should be scheduled with the representatives of Bhutan, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Liberia and Yemen.


For use of information media; not an official record

CEDAW12/014F