CEDAW Now in Geneva and Serviced by OHCHR
Friday, February 8, 2008 4:53 PM

The move of CEDAW represents a significant step towards a more consolidated United Nations human rights treaty body system, with all of its eight treaty bodies now fully serviced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.

For decades, and until its recent transfer to Geneva, CEDAW was the only human rights treaty body serviced by another part of the United Nations Secretariat and did not meet in Geneva.

“Your presence in Geneva will greatly contribute to the strengthening of the treaty body system, and the current endeavors towards a harmonized, well-coordinated and integrated approach,” Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang told the Committee when she opened its 40th session on 14 January 2008.

Calling the session “a historic one,” CEDAW Chairperson Dubravka Šimonovic added that the ongoing year-long commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) would be a great opportunity to emphasize gender equality and non-discrimination as enshrined in the Declaration.

Treaty bodies are committees of independent experts established to monitor the implementation of the core international human rights treaties. CEDAW monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Currently there are seven international human rights treaties and an optional protocol monitored by eight expert committees. Two more -- on persons with disabilities and on enforced disappearance -- have not yet entered into force. Since the adoption of the UDHR in 1948, all UN Member States have ratified at least one of these international human rights treaties, and 80 percent have ratified four or more.

Through ratification of international human rights treaties, governments assume a legal obligation to implement the rights they recognize, undertake to put into place domestic measures compatible with their treaty obligations, and submit regular reports on implementation to the committees.

With substantive and secretariat support from OHCHR, the human rights treaty bodies meet regularly to examine reports from State parties and issue their principal concerns and recommendations, known as “concluding observations”. They also develop and adopt general comments or recommendations, which interpret and elaborate on provisions and themes addressed by international human rights treaties.

CEDAW and other treaty bodies, such as the Human Rights Committee which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also consider complaints from individuals alleging violations of treaty provisions. Their views constitute a key part of the jurisprudence of international human rights law.

All the committees engage in follow-up activities to ensure implementation of their decisions and recommendations. This may include direct contacts with the governments concerned, workshops or training sessions involving a wide range of national actors such as judges, parliamentarians and members of civil society. It is through these efforts that the treaty bodies endeavor to make a difference on the ground.

The human rights treaty body system plays a significant role in promoting and protecting human rights. States have commuted death sentences, granted compensation to or released individuals, and amended, repealed or enacted legislation following the recommendations of treaty bodies.

There is also increasing reference to treaty body jurisprudence in domestic litigation, which often leads to better human rights protection at the national level. In the case of CEDAW, some governments have amended laws discriminating on basis of gender or sex in response to its recommendations.

Published in: “CEDAW now in Geneva,” United Nations Human Rights: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 31 January 2008.