COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN
Since its first session, in 1982, the Committee has made a concerted effort to develop appropriate working methods. These methods continue to evolve. The present overview is designed to make the current working methods more transparent and readily accessible to States parties and others interested in the implementation of the Convention, including United Nations agencies, programmes and funds and civil society organizations.
II. Guidelines for reporting by States parties
The Committee has adopted reporting guidelines to assist States parties in the preparation of initial and subsequent periodic reports1. The Committee strongly encourages all States parties to submit reports in accordance with these guidelines. This will reduce the need for the Committee to request further information when it considers a report and will help the Committee to consider the situation regarding human rights in every State party on an equal basis. The Committee keeps these guidelines under review and updates them as appropriate.
Reports should be as concise as possible. Initial reports must not exceed 31,800 words and should deal specifically with every article of the Convention. Periodic reports must not exceed 21,200 words2 and generally should focus on the period between the consideration of the previous report and the current report, using the concluding observations on the previous report as the starting point and highlighting new developments. Where a State party has prepared a common core document3, this will be available to the Committee.
The Committee recommends that States parties consult national non-governmental organizations in the preparation of their reports. It requests that reports of States parties describe the situation of non-governmental organizations and women’s associations and their participation in the implementation of the Convention and the preparation of the report.
III. Consideration of reports of States parties by the Committee
The Committee usually invites eight States parties to present their reports at each session, taking into account the criteria of preference to be given to those States parties whose reports have been pending for the longest time, the need to give priority to initial reports and the desirability of a balance of reports in terms of geographic and other factors.
A. Pre-sessional working group
The pre-sessional working group of the Committee, with the support of the secretariat, draws up lists of issues and questions with regard to State party reports which the Committee will consider two sessions later, focusing on major areas of concern with regard to the implementation of the Convention by the States parties concerned. The lists of issues and questions are intended to facilitate the preparation by States parties for their constructive dialogue with the Committee and to provide a focus for the dialogue. The list of issues normally consists of 20 questions with each question containing no more than 3 issues4. In 2014, the Committee decided to entust its pre-sesional working group with the preparation of draft list of issues prior to reporting (LIOPR) under a new simplified reporting procedure (SRP)5. The SRP is offered to all States parties, upon their request, irrespective of whether or not their respective periodic report is overdue, provided that the State party concerned: (1) previously submitted an initial report which was considered under the regular procedure; and (2) has submitted an updated common core document, in accordance with the “Harmonized guidelines on reporting under the international human rights treaties, including guidelines on a common core document and treaty-specific documents” (HRI/MC/2006/3 and Corr.1), within the preceding five years, a time frame subject to further review by the Committee. The Committee decided to keep under review the practical modalities of the implementation of the simplified reporting procedure to ensure its effectiveness for all stakeholders6.
LOIPRs shall be limited to a maximum of 25 paragraphs, including one standard paragraph, asking the State party concerned to provide information on the measures taken to implement the Committee’s previous concluding observations. LOIPRs must not raise more than 75 questions7.
The pre-sessional working group meets for five days (in closed meetings) directly after a plenary session and is composed of five members of the Committee, taking account of a balanced geographical distribution.
Representatives of the specialized agencies and bodies of the United Nations, national human rights institutions as well as national and international non-governmental organizations, are invited to provide country-specific information to the pre-sessional working group on those States parties whose reports are before the group.
The lists of issues and questions are promptly sent to the States parties concerned, usually within a week after the pre-sessional working group concludes its work. States parties are invited to provide their responses, not exceeding 17,000 words (21,200 words in the case of LOIPRs) within two to three months thereafter8. The lists of issues and questions, together with the written replies from States parties, are at the disposal of members of the Committee prior to the session at which the reports are to be examined.
B. Constructive dialogue
The Committee engages in a constructive dialogue with representatives of the reporting State to consider the. It is important that the representatives of the reporting State are present and participate actively in the constructive dialogue.
The Committee devotes two public meetings (of three and two hours, respectively) to its consideration of a State party report9. The Head of the delegation of the State party is invited to make an introductory statement for a maximum of 30 minutes10. Following the introductory statement, experts pose questions in respect of the articles of the Convention. Initial reports are considered on an article-by-article basis, with the exception of articles 1 and 2, 7 and 8, and 15 and 16, which will be considered in clusters11. For the consideration of periodic reports, questions by experts are clustered following the four substantive parts of the Convention, namely part I: articles 1 to 6; part II: articles 7 to 9; part III: articles 10 to 14; and part IV: articles 15 to 16. After experts pose questions under a cluster, the State party is given an opportunity to respond; the next round of questions and answers follows until all clusters have been covered. Following each cluster, experts have an opportunity to ask follow-up questions.Interventions by experts during the constructive dialogue are limited to a maximum of six minutes (two minutes for follow-up questions). The time limit is monitored by a speech timer.
The Committee may consider a report in the absence of representatives of a State party, if warranted. It may also consider the implementation of the Convention in the absence of a report as a measure of last resort. Such a measure will be taken on a case-by-case basis, particularly in instances where a State party has not submitted a long-overdue initial report. This step will be preceded by other efforts, including notification of the State party concerned and inviting the State party to submit the requested report before the designated session12. Individual members of the Committee refrain from participating in any aspect of the consideration of the reports of the States of which they are nationals or if another conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict of interest may arise in order to maintain the highest standards of impartiality, both in substance and appearance, in accordance with Addis Ababa guidelines on the independence and impartiality of treaty body experts13.
C. Concluding observations
The Committee adopts concluding observations on the reports of States parties that it considers. For this purpose, the Committee holds a closed meeting after each constructive dialogue with a State party to consider the main issues to be reflected in the concluding observations for that State. The member of the Committee designated as the country rapporteur for the report of that State party then prepares a draft of the concluding observations, with the support of the secretariat, for consideration of the Committee. The Committee adopts the concluding observations in closed meetings.
Concluding observations usually follow a standard format under the headings referred to below. The “introduction” usually indicates whether the report complies with the Committee’s reporting guidelines and notes the level of the delegation and the quality of the dialogue. A section on “positive aspects” refers to new laws, policies or institutions for the advancement of women as well as the ratification of international human rights traties since the consideration of the previous report of the State party concerned (since the ratification of the Convention in the case of initial reports). A section on “factors and difficulties affecting the implementation of the Convention” is included only in exceptional circumstances. In the last section of the concluding observations, on “principal areas of concern and recommendations”, the Committee formulates concrete recommendations for measures to be taken by the State party in response to the concerns identified by the Committee. Where appropriate, the concluding observations make reference to the Sustainable Development Goals14.
All concluding observations include a recommendation relating to dissemination, requesting wide dissemination of the concluding observations in the State party concerned, and also a paragraph requesting that information be submitted on the steps taken to implement two priority recommendations identified at the end of the concluding observations, within two years, or exceptionally within one year (known as the “follow-up procedure”). The concluding observations also set out the date when the State party’s next periodic report is due.
Once adopted, the concluding observations are transmitted to the State party for factual comments to be submitted within 24 hours prior to the close of the session. They are then published on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
IV. Strategies to encourage reporting by States parties
The Committee has adopted a number of measures to address the challenges posed to the treaty monitoring process by the significant number of overdue reports. In order to encourage States parties to fulfil their reporting obligations under article 18 of the Convention as well as to address the backlog of reports awaiting consideration, States parties are invited to consolidate all their overdue reports in a single document. The secretariat also sends reminders to States parties whose reports are more than five years overdue. The OHCHR capacity building section and other United Nations entities such as UN Women provide technical assistance to support States parties, at their request, in the implementation of their reporting obligations under the Convention.
V. Interaction with specialized agencies and bodies of the United Nations
Since its second session, the Committee has invited specialized agencies of the United Nations to cooperate in its work. The Committee and its pre-sessional working group invite specialized agencies and other bodies of the United Nations to provide reports containing country-specific information on States parties whose reports are before them. Representatives of these entities are invited to address the Committee in closed meeting at each of its sessions. They are also invited to address the pre-sessional working group. The Committee finds it most beneficial to receive written reports as well as oral briefings highlighting the contents of such submissions by the representatives of the United Nations specialized agency or body concerned during the closed meetings with the Committee or working group. The Committee has adopted guidelines for the submission of written information by United Nations and specialized agencies and bodies.
The Committee recommends that specialized agencies and other United Nations entities with field presences as well as non-governmental organizations disseminate information on the Convention and on the work of the Committee. The OHCHR capacity building section continues to enhance follow-up activities at the country level and OHCHR field presences, together with UN Women and other UN entitites, continue to develop ways of integrating the Convention into the work of the United Nations system.
VI. Participation of non-governmental organizations in the activities of the Committee
Since its early sessions, the Committee has invited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to follow its work. In order to ensure that it is as well informed as possible, the Committee invites representatives of national and international NGOs to provide country-specific information on the States parties whose reports are scheduled for consideration at a given session. National and international NGOs are also invited to provide country-specific information to the pre-sessional working group on those States parties whose reports are before the group. Such information may be submitted in writing in advance of the relevant session or working group. In addition, the Committee sets aside time at each of its sessions, usually on the Monday of the first and second week of the session, to enable representatives of NGOs to provide oral information in public meeting. The pre-sessional working group provides an opportunity for NGOs to provide oral information in closed meeting. The Committee encourages international NGOs and United Nations agencies, funds and programmes to facilitate attendance at Committee sessions by representatives of national NGOs.
VII. General recommendations
Article 21 of the Convention provides that the Committee may make suggestions and general recommendations based on the examination of reports and information received from States parties. General recommendations provide guidance on the content of the legal obligations of States parties under the Convention. The Committee elaborates general recommendations on specific articles of the Convention or themes/issues arising thereunder. Most of these outline matters which the Committee wishes to see addressed in the reports of States parties, and seek to provide detailed guidance to States parties on the steps they need to take to comply with their obligations under the Convention.
As at 30 April 2018, the Committee has adopted 37 general recommendations. Those adopted during the Committee’s first 10 years were short, addressing such issues as the content of reports, reservations to the Convention and resources for the Committee. At its tenth session, in 1991, the Committee decided to adopt the practice of issuing general recommendations on specific provisions of the Convention and on the relationship between the Convention articles and themes/issues. Following that decision, the Committee issued more detailed and comprehensive general recommendations which offer States parties clear guidance on the application of the Convention in particular situations. Comprehensive general recommendations have been adopted on equality in marriage and family relations (No. 21), the core obligations of States parties under article 2 of CEDAW (No. 28), the economic consequences of marriage, family relations and their dissolution (No. 29), women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations (No. 30), the gender-related dimensions of refugee status, asylum, nationality and statelessness of women (No. 32), women’s access to justice (No. 33), the rights of rural women (No. 34), gender-based violence against women (No. 35), the right of girls and women to education (No. 36), and the gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction in the context of climate change (No. 37).
The Committee has also adopted a joint general recommendation, together with the Committee on the Rights of the Child, on harmful practices (No.31), outlining the obligations of States parties to eliminate harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, child and/or forced marriage, polygamy, and crimes committed in the name of so-called honour.
The Committee follows a three-stage process for the formulation of general recommendations. The first stage consists of an open dialogue between the Committee, NGOs and others on the topic of the general recommendation during a half-day of general discussion. Specialized agencies and other United Nations bodies as well as NGOs are encouraged to participate in this discussion and to submit informal background papers. A Committee member is then asked to draft the general recommendation, based on a concept note, which is discussed at the next or a subsequent session of the Committee. Resource persons may be involved in the elaboration of the draft general recommendation. Since 2017, the Committee also consults all interested stakeholders during an online consultation process prior to finalizing a draft general recommendation. At a following session, the revised draft is adopted by the Committee.
VIII. Statements adopted by the Committee
The Committee further adopts statements to clarify and confirm its position with respect to major international developments and issues that have a bearing on the implementation of the Convention. These statements have dealt with issues such as reservations, gender and racial discrimination, gender and sustainable development, discrimination against older women, and armed conflicts or refugee crises having an impact on the protection of women and girls.
IX. Optional Protocol to the Convention
Since the Optional Protocol to the Convention entered into force on 10 December 2000, the Committee allocates time at each session to consider individual communications under article 2 and confidential inquiries under article 8 of the Optional Protocol. The Committee has appointed a fivee-member Working Group on Communications under the Optional Protocol15. The Working Group prepares draft recommendations for adoption by the Committee on individual communications received from women claiming that their rights under the the Convention have been violated. It has also prepared a model form for submission of a communication16.
The Committee has established a follow-up procedure for communications by designating a rapporteur or working group to ascertain the measures taken by States parties to give effect to the Committee’s Views and recommendations. The rapporteur or working group shall make recommendations for further action by the Committee as necessary and shall regularly report to the Committee on follow-up activities17.
The Committee has also appointed a five-member Working Group on Inquiries under the Optional Protocol to examine information received under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol alleging grave or systematic violations by a State party of rights set forth in the Convention. Upon receipt of information indicating such violations, the Working Group assesses the information and, if considered reliable and potentially meeting the threshold of “grave or systematic”, invites the State party to submit its observations. The Working Group may, on the basis of the State party’s observations and other relevant information available to it, recommend the Committee to designate one or more of its members to conduct an inquiry and submit a report within a fixed time period18. The Committee shall seek the cooperation of the State party at all stages of the inquiry and where warranted and with the consent of the State party concerned, an inquiry may include a visit to the territory of the State party. The visit shall be carried out at the expense of OHCHR19.
The findings of the inquiry are then examined by the Committee and sent to the State party concerned, together with any comments and recommendations. Within six months of receipt, the State party shall submit its own observations on the Committee’s findings and inform it of the measures taken in response to the inquiry20.
Upon completion of all proceedings, the Committee will publish the full report of the inquiry and, with the consent of the State party concerned, the latter’s observations thereon on the website of the OHCHR.
X. Other matters
The Committee continues to interact and coordinate activities with other human rights treaty bodies and mechanisms. It seeks the comments of other treaty bodies on its draft general recommendations and provides comments on their draft general comments when invited to do so. Members of the Committee participate in relevant general discussion days held by other treaty bodies. The Committee holds discussions and exchanges views with other human rights mechanisms, including the special rapporteurs and working groups of the Human Rights Council such as the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and the working group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.
The Chairperson of the Committee participates, on behalf of the Committee, in a number of meetings, including the annual sessions of the General Assembly and the Commission on the Status of Women as well as annual meetings of the chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies.
As part of the many efforts to encourage and support implementation of the Convention, members of the Committee participate in technical assistance activities, at the request of States, organized by OHCHR, UN Women and by regional United Nations bodies. These activities essentially focus on ratification of the Convention and the Optional Protocol, reporting under the Convention and on follow-up to the Committee’s concluding observations.
1. HRI/GEN/2/Rev.6, June 2009.
2. GA resolution 68/268, para.16.
3. For the guidelines for the core document, see HRI/GEN/2/Rev.6.
4. Decision 49/IX.
5. Decision 59/4.
6. Decision 69/V.
7. Decision 64/2. Should you wish to include as relevant: Decision 65/5 States,"theCommittee also decided not to accept any new requests from States parties until it has undertaken an assessment of the effectiveness of this procedure.
8. Decision 49/IX.
9. All public meetings are webcast live
10. Decision 31/III.
11. Decision 31/III, para. 422-423.
12. Decision 31/III, para 439.
13. Guidelines on the independence and impartiality of members of the human rights treaty bodies (“the Addis Ababa guidelines”), A/67/222, Annex.
14. Decision 63/7.
15. Decision 54/9.
16. The form is available the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights here
17. Rule of procedure, Rule 73.
18. Rule of Procedure, Rule 84.
19. I am including this solely due to the discussions in the WGI of some Note verbales transmitted back to the Committee.
20. Rules of procedure, Rule 89.