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    Press Release No:  UNIS/WOM/481
    Release Date:   13 June 2000
    Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
    Begins Three-week Session at Headquarters

     NEW YORK, 12 June (UN Headquarters) -- During the General Assembly's special session on women, many Member States pledged their recommitment to the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and to its implementation, the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Angela King, said this morning. 

     Addressing the opening meeting of the twenty-third session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, she said in the coming weeks, as women around the world began to analyse the outcome of the special session, first impressions would testify to the influence of the Convention and the work of the Committee on the development of the international policy framework for women’s advancement.  “The Convention forms the legal basis of that policy framework”, Ms. King said.

     Reiterating the concern expressed by Member States at the special session, Ms. King said the fact that the goal of universal ratification of the Convention by 2000 had not been achieved, many reservations to the Convention had persisted, and many countries had not yet implemented provisions of the Convention, had been cited as specific obstacles to the implementation of the Platform for Action, adopted at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

     Yakin Erturk, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, said that the close links between the Convention, the work of the Committee and the full implementation of the Platform were clearly apparent.  Delegates at the forty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women had also urged governments to make efforts to realize the goal of universal ratification of the Convention by the year 2000.  To that end, she announced that France had become the fourth country to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on 9 June.  During the special session, a number of States committed themselves to ratification of, or accession to, the Protocol.

     Aida Gonzalez Martinez (Mexico), Committee Chairperson, said that she hoped that the Optional Protocol would soon enter into force and that the trend towards ratification would take momentum.  She also urged States to review their reservations to the Convention and to see if it was possible to withdraw them.

     The Committee will meet again on Wednesday, 14 June, when it will begin consideration of the second and third periodic reports of Iraq.

    Committee Work Programme

     The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women opened its twenty-third session this morning at Headquarters.  The session is scheduled to run through 30 June. The Committee, which is the only United Nations human rights treaty body that deals with women, was today expected to adopt its agenda and hear the report of the chairperson on activities undertaken since the twenty-second session towards the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

     Tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention, the 23-member expert Committee was set to consider and make general recommendations on the periodic reports of seven States parties to the Convention during this session.  Iraq, Austria and Lithuania will present their reports this week.  As the session continues, the Committee will take up the reports of Cuba, Cameroon, Republic of Moldova and Romania. 

    Statements

     ANGELA KING, Assistant Secretary-General, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said that the current session was taking place after the very “upbeat and positive” closing of the General Assembly special session “Women 2000”, which reviewed the implementation of the Platform for Action adopted at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing.  Along with nearly 200 speakers in plenary, that session drew over 2,300 delegates not including mission staff and over 2,000 non-governmental organization representatives from 1,061 groups.  “Despite dire predictions”, she said, “there was absolutely no roll-back of the Platform and many significant new areas had been addressed.”

     It was important to note, Ms. King continued, that during the special session, many Member States pledged their recommitment to the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and to its implementation.  They had also expressed their firm intention to ratify or accede to the Optional Protocol.  At the same time, however, the fact that the goal of universal ratification of the Convention by the year 2000 established in the Platform had not been achieved, the persistence of many reservations to the Convention, and the many countries that had not yet implemented fully the provisions of the Convention, were cited as specific obstacles to implementation of the Platform.

     In that regard, she said that among the 199 actions and initiatives to achieving the full and accelerated implementation of the Platform, Member States identified ratification of the Convention, limitation and removal of limitations, and acceptance of the optional protocol as issues of necessarily high importance.  Member States also required the United Nations system, international and regional organizations to assist in capacity-building for the implementation of the Convention.  Other actions aimed at creating a gender-sensitive legal and policy environment included a review of legislation, with a view to removing discriminatory provisions by 2005 and eliminating legislative gaps that left women and girls without protection and without effective recourse against gender-based discrimination. 

     During the coming weeks, as women around the world began to analyse the outcome of the special session on Beijing + 5, even first impressions would testify to the influence of the Convention and the work of the Committee on the development of the international policy framework for women’s advancement.  “The Convention forms the legal basis of that policy framework”, she said.  It was hoped that decisions made during the Committee’s current session would serve to strengthen the links between the legal framework for women’s advancement by the Convention and its Protocol, and the policy framework to that end in the Platform, along with the results of the special session.

     YAKIN ERTURK, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, said that the months since the closure of the twenty-second session of the Committee had been a period of intense activity for the Division.  From 28 February to 17 March, the focus of the Division was the forty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, and the third session of the Commission acting as Preparatory Committee for the special session of the General Assembly.  Throughout the period, the close linkages between the Convention, the work of the Committee and the full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action were clearly apparent.  During the forty-fourth session of the Commission, delegations had urged governments to make efforts to realize the goal of universal ratification of the Convention by the year 2000 outlined in the Platform and to limit or withdraw reservations that had been entered to its terms. 

     She said that the commitment of governments with regard to the Optional Protocol had largely translated into reality.  To date, 41 States parties to the Convention had signed the Protocol, and three had ratified it.  The first State party to ratify the Convention was Namibia, which was closely followed by Senegal and Denmark.  On 9 June, France had also announced that it had ratified the Optional Protocol.  During the special session, a number of States committed themselves to ratification of, or accession to, the Protocol.  Several of the side events at the special session concerned the Optional Protocol.  It was her view that the 10 ratifications required for the Protocol’s entry into force would be achieved during the year.  During the session, the Committee would have before it a working paper to assist it in considering the procedures that it would introduce for the implementation of the Optional Protocol. 

     At the Committee's twenty-second session, it had decided to consider the reports of eight States parties during the current session, she said.  One of those States parties nominated to report was unable to do so.  Due to time constraints, it was impossible to identify another State party in a position to report at the twenty-third session.  Experts would, therefore, consider the reports of seven States parties, a number of which had presented more than one report.  In addition to the reports, experts would continue their consideration of the Committee’s rules of procedure, with a view to finalizing their revision.  The Convention was clearly acknowledged as the legal basis of the policy framework for women’s advancement. 

     AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ (Mexico) Committee Chairperson, said that since 4 February, many things had happened.  Many comments had been made on both the work and functions of the Committee.  Both Ms. King and Ms. Erturk had referred to them in their opening remarks.  Among the meetings held to prepare for the special session of General Assembly, the Eighth Regional Conference of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean was noteworthy.  That regional conference was held in Lima, Peru, and it examined implementation of the regional programme and the Platform for Action.  The meeting adopted an evaluation document, entitled the Lima Consensus.

     In March, the forty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women was held, as well as the third session of the Commission acting as the Preparatory Committee for the special session of the General Assembly on Beijing + 5.  During the general debate, the representative of Portugal, speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed the idea that the legal framework of the Platform for Action was the Convention.  She urged States to review their reservations on the Convention and to see if it would be possible to withdraw them and abstain in the future from making reservations.

     The special session monitored the progress made on the Platform for Action and identified future action to be taken, she said.  She also wanted to acknowledge the contribution made by the Division for the Advancement of Women.  The staff of that Division had worked intensely without rest practically throughout the year, but especially since the Preparatory Committee in March.  A document was crafted that seemed very difficult to draft because of the many positions of individual countries.  The super-human work done made it possible to set down in black and white the proposals, counter-proposals and the suggestions that had been made.  Everyone had worked tirelessly the week before the special session, where meetings continued until late in the evening and started early in the morning.  She wanted to pay tribute to those people.

     She said that some of the experts had been able to attend the special session.  The workshop on human rights for women, which was attended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, was noteworthy.  Some experts had participated as members of their delegations.  There was also the panel which Ms. King and Ms. Erturk mentioned on the Optional Protocol to the Convention at which ministers of Namibia and Senegal took part.  To date, Namibia, Senegal and Denmark had ratified the Optional Protocol.  On 9 June, as Ms. Erturk announced, France also announced that it had ratified the Optional Protocol.  She hoped that the Protocol would soon enter into force and that the trend towards ratification would gain momentum. 

     The special session ended its work on Saturday at dawn, she continued.  It had been a very difficult session.  The intensity of the negotiations, however, added special interest for those who had participated.  Reaching consensus on future actions was very difficult.  On a less positive note, the goal of universal ratification of the Convention by 2000 had not been achieved.  The special session adopted a document with a section that identified obstacles, new trends and challenges.  The document also referred to the need to study content on reservations made and the advisability of withdrawing them.  The Committee must analyse the final outcome document of the special session carefully for consistency between initiatives and actions to be adopted in the future and those to be undertaken for the full implementation of the Convention.  The twenty-third session of the Committee would be important not only because it would study the reports of seven countries, but also because the Optional Protocol was about to enter into force.

     JANE CONNORS, Chief of the Women’s Rights Unit, Division for the Advancement of Women, introduced two agenda items.  The first concerned the implementation of article 21 of the Convention, and the second concerned ways and means of expediting the work of the Committee.

     Following the CHAIRPERSONS discussion of the activities during the past six months, she opened the floor to experts for brief comments and presentations of reports.

     Several experts highlighted the importance of the Convention as the legal basis for the implementation of the Platform for Action.  The Convention was indeed the most important legally binding document for women’s advancement.  It was hoped that the momentum gained during “Women 2000” could be carried over into the work of the Committee.  The fact that the special session had concluded a mere 36 hours ago also would allow the Committee to explore the links between the Platform and the Convention.  In order to facilitate the work of the Committee, it would be most important to know whether the Platform was a product of the Convention, or whether the Convention was a product of the Platform.

     Continuing on the subject of issues that the Committee might address during its current session, other experts noted the importance of “race and gender” as one of the most critical issues that would affect women’s advancement in the coming years.  The Committee should also recognize that while there had been much discussion of the Optional Protocol during the special session, there had been no real acknowledgement that its tenets must be ratified and put into action.

     AYSE FERIDE ACAR (Turkey), Rapporteur of the Committee, said that the Committee was increasingly collaborating with other human rights bodies.  There had been significant interest in the Optional Protocol.  That interest had transformed itself into action in many parts of the world.  The very spirit of the Convention was in everyone’s mind.

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