Handling communications
 Reporting under the convention

Title: International enforcement of women's rights
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Title: International enforcement of women's rights
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Creator: Galey, Margaret E.
Publisher: Margaret E. Galey
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    Handling communications
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    Reporting under the convention
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Full Text


Margaret E. Galey*


In contrast to the substantial body of international human rights

instruments developed through the United Nations political organs and

Specialized Agencies since the late 1940's, the lack of enforcement of

international human rights standards has been a major obstacle to the

wider enjoyment of human rights.1 And though the UN Charter provides

that the UN shall promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for

all without distinction as to ... sex and despite the contribution of

the UN Commission on the Status of Women in defining an international

norm prohibiting discrimination against women, the international

enforcement of women's rights has been especially dismal.2 Efforts to

enforce women's rights have been doubly disadvantaged. Not only do

those efforts suffer from problems of enforcing international human

rights standards generally because primary enforcement mechanisms,

national governments, often lack political will and/or resources to

promote compliance with standards their governments have obligated

themselves to support. But since women are treated as a minority in

law and custom in most countries of the world, governmental efforts to

promote their rights have an even lower priority and those efforts may

Staff Consultant, Committee on Foreign Affairs, U. S. House of
Representatives. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect
those of the Committee. The author served as Congressional Staff
Advisor to the U.S. Delegations to the 1978, 1980, and 1982 sessions
of the UN Commission on the Status of Women; and as the Western
Representative to the Ad Hoc Group on Communications at the 1980 and
1982 sessions.

Page 2

not even be made in the first place.

There is a need for international enforcement bodies and

procedures to provide recourse to individual women whose rights have

been violated and to prod governments to adopt measures that give

effect to obligations they have undertaken. My purpose is to discuss

two recent developments that may contribute to promoting international

enforcement of women's rights. One is the new procedure for handling

communications (that is, complaints) on alleged violations of

internationally recognized women's rights in the UN Commission on the

Status of Women. The other is the potential enforcement capability of

the Committee under the Convention on the Elimination of

Discrimination Against Women.

I. Handling Communications (Complaints)

The UN Commission on the Status of Women, established in 1947 as

a subsidiary body to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is

the only international intergovernmental body responsible for

preparing recommendations and reports to promote women's rights in

political, social, civil, economic and cultural fields. It also makes

recommendations to the Council on urgent problems requiring immediate

attention in the field of women's rights with the object of

implementing the principle that men and women shall have equal rights

and of developing proposals to give effect to those recommendations.3

To these ends, the Commission has contributed to developing an

international norm outlawing discrimination against women through the

preparation of various international instruments. The most

significant of these has been the Convention on the Elimination of

Page 3

Discrimination Against Women which was adopted by the UN General

Assembly in 1979, entered into force in 1981, and authorized the

creation of a Committee to promote compliance with its provisions

among States Parties. The Committee's work is discussed below.

However, prior to the adoption of the Convention and through most of

its history, the Commission on the Status of Women relied on three

measures to promote acceptance of women's rights that it defined.

They were receiving communications, using advisory services and

reporting systems. The communications procedure is of major interest


The Commission's authority for handling communications on

violations of women's rights dates to 1948 when ECOSOC, its parent

body granted it authority under ECOSOC Resolutions 76(v) and later

under 304(XI) to receive both confidential and non-confidential lists

of communications prepared by the Secretariat. The Commission

traditionally would appoint a three member Subcommittee on

Communications to review these lists and report its results to the

plenary. However, the most the Commission could do or for that

matter, ever did, was to report that it had "taken note" of those

complaints-hardly an example of assertiveness on the Commission's


Meanwhile, in 1948, ECOSOC also granted similar authority to the

UN Commission on Human Rights in its Resolution 75(V). Subsequently,

the Council approved strengthened procedures for the Commission on

Human Rights in resolutions of 1967 and 1970 that permitted it to deal

with gross and persistent violations of internationally recognized

human rights. Resolution 1503(1970) authorized the Secretariat of the

Page 4

Human Rights Commission which receives upwards of 50,000

communications annually to screen those and transmit the ones that may

be "gross violations" to the Subcommission on the Prevention of

Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities for further screening

and investigation. If the Subcommission determines a particular

violation to be "gross", it will investigate it, prepare the case and

forward it to the Commission for action. Close observers of the Human

Rights Commission contend that this procedure has had an impact on the

behavior of governments that have engaged in gross and persistent

violations. Those governments are called to account in a private

session of the Commission where they must explain their behavior and

answer questions put to them by other Members of the Commission and

report back the following year on measures they have taken to correct

their behavior.5

In contrast, the UN Commission on the Status of Women has been

slow to pursue expanding its authority to handle communications.

After almost 30 years of "taking note" of confidential communications

in closed sessions, the Commission in 1974 almost lost its limited

authority to receive them. At the Commission's 1974 session, a

Western delegate asked whether Resolution 1503 applied to the handling

of communications on the status of women and in the resulting

confusion, members voted to uphold a Soviet proposal to discontinue

receiving them. The intervention of several non-governmental

organizations and Belgium at ECOSOC in 1974, however, resulted in

ECOSOC's request that the Commission reconsider its decision to

discontinue receiving communications.6 Then at the 1976 and 1978

sessions of the Commission, Western governments struggled against the

Page 5

Eastern bloc's persistent efforts to gut the Commission's authority

and transfer the matter to the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Several Western governments the U.S., UK and Nordics worked

to ensure the item appeared on the Commission's agenda, to reaffirm

and expand the Commission's authority to receive communications.7

In 1980, the Commission adopted a U.S.-sponsored draft resolution

requesting ECOSOC's approval to convene a group of experts to study

and recommend to its 1982 session a set of procedures for the

Commission's handling of communications. ECOSOC did not approve the

draft resolution but instead requested the Commission on the Status of

Women and the Commission on Human Rights at their 1982 sessions to

recommend such procedures.8

During the 1982 session of the Commission on the Status of Women,

an informal drafting group of several Western and Third World

representatives discussed the desirability of focusing on categories

of alleged violations rather than individual cases. While some felt

the Commission should deal with individual cases, they also considered

this would require investigation of allegations, a politically

sensitive matter, and considerable expense which the Commission's

membership would likely not support. And though some thought the

Commission should deal with "gross and reliably attested violations of

women's rights" thus incorporating the language of ECOSOC Resolution

1503, others considered it preferable to consider violations in the

context of the need to eliminate discrimination against women

following the Convention. Subsequently, in plenary, a

Ukranian-sponsored draft resolution proposing that the communications

issue be deferred until the UN Commission on Human Rights acted on the

Page 6

matter was offered and drafted. Then the Commission adopted a

UK-sponsored draft resolution reflecting the Western plus Third World


Draft Resolution X, introduced by the UK and co-sponsored by

Trinidad and Tobago, Honduras and Nigeria, was adopted by a roll call

vote: 16-6-5.9

At their respective 1983 spring sessions, the UN Commission on

Human Rights endorsed and ECOSOC approved draft resolution X.10

The new procedure: (1) reaffirms the Commission's existing

mandate to consider confidential and non-confidential communications

on the status of women; (2) requests the Secretary-General to submit

to the Commission at its 30th session in 1984 a report on confidential

and non-confidential communications on the status of women that

includes (a) complaints received under Council Resolutions 76(V) and

304(XI) including the comments of Governments, and (b) those received

by the Specialized Agencies, regional commissions and other UN bodies

together with information on any action taken following receipt of

such communications; (3) requests the Secretary-General to solicit the

cooperation of the Specialized Agencies, regional commissions and

other UN bodies in compiling the report; (4) authorizes the Commission

to appoint a 5-member Working Group, selected on the basis of

geographical distribution to meet in closed session during meetings of

the Commission.in order to (a) consider all communications, including

any replies of governments with a view to identifying those which

appear to reveal a consistent pattern of reliably attested injustice

and discriminatory practice against women; and (b) prepare a report

based on its analysis that indicates the categories of communications

Page 7

most frequently submitted to the Commission; (5) requests the

Commissibn to examine the Report and make recommendations to ECOSOC

which shall then decide what action may be taken on the emerging

trends and pattern of communications; (6) decides that all action as

described above shall remain confidential until such time as the

Commission may decide to make recommendations to ECOSOC; and (7)

decides to authorize the Secretary-General to provide within existing

budgetary resources, and services and facilities necessary for

implementing this resolution.11

This procedure now in effect was tested for the first time at the

Commission's 30th session in February, 1984 which has just concluded

in Vienna. There the subject of communications was discussed without

contentious debate for the first time in a decade!

At the Commission's 1984 session, the Director of the Advancement

of Women Branch reviewed the legislative history of the resolution on

communications, indicated that the Secretariat had distributed the

confidential list of communications in a sealed envelop to the heads

of delegations present and authorized the Working Group to meet and

discuss the list. That Group held three private meetings and

submitted its Report to the Commission in closed session on February

23, 1984. The Commission then adopted the report of the Working Group

and decided to include it, along with comments, in the Commission's

regular Report.to ECOSOC and the UN General Assembly.

The Working Group's Report says that the Group studied a list of

121 communications and replies of some governments, and that many

communications dealt with the separation of families and persons

wishing to marry. However, the Group did not consider these to be

Page 8

within its mandate since they applied equally to men and women.

However, the Group did identify one trend, "the widespread physical

violence against women in official custody, including cases of rape,

sexual abuse and violent treatment of pregnant women" and recommended

that the Commission suggest a course of action to ECOSOC.

Subsequently, the UK Representative introduced a draft resolution,

"Physical Violence specific to their Sex Against Detained Women" which

was co-sponsored by Australia, Canada, Denmark, Pakistan, Spain and

Trinidad and Tobago. The Commission adopted it by consensus and

recommended it for ECOSOC's approval. The draft resolution noted

"with grave concern the pattern of physical violence against women",

that "women are especially vulnerable to sexual violence" and that

"pregnant women require special protection". In recalling ECOSOC

resolutions authorizing the Commission to deal with communications and

to draw attention to emerging trends and patterns, the Commission then

called on UN Member States to take measures to eradicate such

violations, invited them to submit views to the Secretariat as the

basis for preparing a Report to the Commission at its 1986 session on

the subject, and authorized the Secretary-General to provide, from

within existing budgetary resources, the services and facilities

necessary to implement the resolution. Following the adoption of the

draft resolution, the Soviet Representative said she had participated

in the Working Group "in a spirit of cooperation and with great

appreciation for its useful work that resulted in a Report based on a

consensus of views". She said her delegation agreed to the draft

resolution without asking for a vote with the "clear understanding"

that it concerned only those trends mentioned in the Working Group's

Page 9

Report as her delegation's position was that complaints by individuals

against governments should be examined inside their countries with

respect to national legislation. This, in the author's view is

perhaps the most positive statement from the Soviet Representative at

the Commission on this subject in recent memory.12

The new procedure and the draft resolution may seem a small step

forward for women, but they represent major steps forward for

womankind. Why? What are their implications for the enforcement of

women's rights?

First, there is now a bona fide international procedure with a

few teeth in it that offers recourse to individual women or groups of

women that allege violations of their rights. They can now have some

expectation that alleged violations will be considered by the

Commission's Working Group and that if they form a pattern of

injustice and discriminatory practice, they may be identified as a

trend or pattern on which action needs to be taken. Thus, the

procedure is more than simply an exercise in "taking note" every two

years at Commission sessions of confidential communications. As the

1984 session demonstrated, the Commission can now take some action to

call to the attention of governments, individuals, other UN bodies and

non-governmental organizations categories of violations of women's

rights and emerging trends and patterns.

Second, the debate leading up to the adoption of the procedure

provides an international legislative record that strongly endorses

the Commission's role in this area. In this regard, the 1984

Commission session marks the first time that the Commission has

decided to incorporate the text of the Report of the Working Group on

Page 10

Communications into its overall Report to ECOSOC. Previously, the

Commission's Report to ECOSOC only noted that a Subcommittee had taken

note of communications; and in 1980 and 1982 when the Ad Hoc Group on

Communications prepared and submitted written reports to the

Secretariat and interested members of the Commission, the Commission's

Report only referred to the fact that they had been orally presented.

The publication of the Working Group's Report signals acceptance of

the procedure and the Commission's expanded authority and an important

benchmark in the international legislative debate.13

In addition, this record can be used in the future to reaffirm

and defend the Commission's expanded authority. It may even be used

at a later time to expand its present authority further, e.g.,

elaborate additional procedures after the Commission has tried this

one for several years.

Third, the debate over the last decade leading to the adoption of

the procedure has sensitized representatives of governments to the

fact that there are women's rights and that they are violated,

sometimes in abusive ways and that something should be done about this

at the international level by the UN Commission on the Status of

Women. Members of the Commission have had to learn about this issue

and its foreign policy implications in order to decide how to deal

with it at Commission meetings. Government officials responsible for

backstopping delegations to the UN Commission meetings also had to

learn about the matter in order to instruct their delegations to

Commission meetings. With respect to the U.S., both Democratic and

Republican appointees have supported the Commission's authority and

need for the new procedure. Ms. Koryn Horbal, U.S. Representative to

Page 11

the Commission in 1978 and 1980 strongly endorsed the Commission's

right to discuss communications and its need to expand its authority.

At the 1980 session, Ms. Horbal proposed on behalf of the U.S. and

Western Group a draft resolution calling for the creation of a group

of experts to determine what procedures the Commission should adopt in

order to deal with communications.14 Though the Commission adopted

it, ECOSOC did not approve it in 1980, but did authorize the

Commission at its 1982 session to determine procedures to be used to

handle communications and advise ECOSOC accordingly.15

Subsequently, the U.S. Representative to the Commission in 1982

and 1984, Ms. Nancy Reynolds, also endorsed the expansion of the

Commission's authority and supported the development of proposals

which led to the 1982 Commission draft resolution.16 Subsequently,

Ms. Reynolds sought the support of the U.S. Representative to the UN

Commission on Human Rights for the 1982 Commission Resolution. In the

U.S. Department of State, career officers were sensitized to the issue

and viewed strengthening the Commission's procedure as an important

U.S. human rights initiative. In this respect, this initiative also

supported an important aspect of U.S. human rights policy, namely the

desirability of promoting international human rights in multiple

rather than a single UN body, as the Soviets had proposed during the

1970's in Commission debates on this item. U.S. policy has supported

discussing human rights in the UN Commission on Human Rights, the

relevant UN Specialized Agencies such as ILO and UNESCO, as well as in

the Commission on the Status of Women.

Thus, the process of initiating, debating, adopting and

implementing the new international procedure has promoted

Page 12

international consciousness raising among State Department officials

both career officers and political appointees about violations of

international women's rights, their relation to human rights, the need

for an international recourse and that the contribution the new

procedure can make to alleviating alleged violations and complaints.

Fourth, publicity about the procedure at local, national and

international levels by NGOs and interested individuals can help

spread the word about the availability of the international mechanism

to which appeals can be made of alleged violations if domestic

remedies are not available or if they have been exhausted.

Fifth, pending ECOSOC's approval of the Commission's draft

resolution, close observers expect the Council to approve that draft

resolution and the Secretariat of the UN Commission to prepare a

report on the physical abuse of women in detention for the

Commission's 1986 session. The report will form the basis for

discussion and recommendation, if determined necessary, on what

measures should be taken to end such abuse. Governments will have to

formulate positions on the report in preparation for the 1986 meeting.

And, since the Report is likely to be published as an official UN

document, it will be available to governments other than those which

are members of the Commission as well as to interested NGOs and

individuals who may have an interest in publicizing the contents of

the Report.

Of course, the procedure has its limitations. It does not

provide for investigation of alleged violations nor for sanctions

against governments that commit alleged violations. Neither does it

allow for the publication of confidential lists or of categories of

Page 13

violations based on those lists. Yet, the fact remains that

governments, in approving the procedure, have acknowledged the fact

that violations of women's rights do occur, have become sensitized to

this fact and have set into motion a process which in the future

offers international recourse to women who allege violations of their

rights. In all these respects, the debate on, adoption of and

implementation to date of the procedure represent an important turning

point in the international enforcement of women's rights.

II. Reporting Under the Convention

A second, recently established international enforcement

mechanism is the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination

Against Women (CEDAW). It is authorized by Articles 17-22 of the

Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women to be

established after the Convention enters into force, that is, 30 days

after the date of deposit with the UN Secretary-General of the 20th

instrument of ratification. The Committee itself was proposed by

Sweden and agreed to by a majority of states including the U.S. during

the final drafting of the Convention to give the same international

status to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against

Women as the UN General Assembly had given to the Convention on the

Elimination of Discrimination based on Race and to the International

Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which had established

Committees to implement their respective provisions.17

The Convention itself, initiated in the 1974 session of the

Commission on the Status of Women, was adopted by the UN General

Assembly in Resolution 34/180 of 18 December 1979.18 It entered into

Page 14

force on 3 September 1981; as of January 1984, 90 states had signed

the Convention and 54 had ratified it.19 Who ratifies the Convention

is important for two reasons. First, only States Parties are

obligated to take all necessary measures to give effect to its

provisions and to report on them to the Committee. Second, only

States Parties are eligible for membership on the 23-member Committee

that examines the reports and proposes measures to encourage states to

increase their efforts to promote compliance with the Convention's


Since the Convention came into force, the Committee has held two

regular sessions and is holding its third session right now. The

first, held from October 18-22 at UN Headquarters in Vienna considered

organizational matters, elected officers, adopted an agenda and rules

of procedure and selected members of the Committee.20 The second

session met from August 1-12, 1983, in New York at UN Headquarters to

consider national reports of States Parties and reschedule the date of

its regular session so that the Committee's Report beginning in 1984

could be transmitted through ECOSOC to the fall session of the UN

General Assembly.21 The Third Session of the Committee opened in New

York at UN Headquarters on March 26 and will conclude on April 6,

1984. It is to consider reports of States Parties that it had not had

time to discuss at its second session. The Third Session is also to

consider and adopt the official Reports of its Second (1982) and Third

(1984) sessions.22

While it is perhaps too soon to assess the impact of the

Committee as an international enforcement mechanism for women's

rights, several preliminary conclusions may be offered. First, it

Page 15

could be argued that since the Convention's obligations apply only to

States Parties, of which there are only 54, that it has limited

applicability. There is some truth to this, particularly since

certain key Western States including the U.S. have not yet ratified

it, and only about 1/3 of the entire UN membership has done so.23

Universal or more nearly universal ratification would surely increase

the extent of obligations imposed and their broader application. If a

greater number of states would ratify the Convention, say upwards of

100, the Convention's provisions could have broad international moral

authority for non-ratifying states. Yet considering that the

Convention was open for signature in 1979, came into force two years

later and in January, 1984 had 54 States Parties reflects a fairly

significant rate of ratification, particularly in view of the cultural

biases against women's rights in most countries of the world. The

Secretary-General's Representative at the Committee's 1983 meeting

attributed the numbers of ratifications to the importance that

governments attached to the Commissions and the efforts of women's

groups at national and international levels.24

Second, and related to the first point, though only 54 states

have ratified it, they have obligated themselves to take "all

appropriate measures" to ensure the full development and advancement

of women in all spheres--political, educational, employment, health

care, economic.and social, legal, marriage and family relations and to

modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women to

eliminate prejudice, customary and all other practices based on the

idea of the inferiority or superiority of either sex. When

traditional societies such as those of 19 Latin American states, 11

Page 16

Eastern European states, 8 African states, and 6 Asian states consent

to undertake "all appropriate measures" as well as 10 Western states,

one may expect changes in municipal law to begin being made and in

turn, gradual changes in the practice of the way those governments

treat their women nationals.

Third, States Parties are to report according to Article 18 of

the Convention on the legislative, judicial, administrative or other

measures which they have adopted to give effect to the Articles of the

Convention and progress made: (1) within a year after the entry into

force for the State concerned and (2) thereafter at least every four

years and whenever the Committee so requests. The Rules of Procedure

of the Committee further specify that the UN Secretary-General shall

notify the Committee of the non-receipt of any Report required from a

State party; that the Committee send reminders through the UN

Secretary-General to states concerning their overdue reports and if

the state fails to submit a required report, refer to this fact in its

annual report to the UN General Assembly--in effect publicize that

State's lack of adherence to the Convention. The Committee may also

ask a State to provide information in addition to what it submitted in

its Report and it may make general recommendations to States Parties

on their Reports for their comment within a certain time limit.25

Thus, the Convention's reporting obligation and the Committee's rules

of procedure make clear that there are sanctions, however mild, for

failure to report. These are stronger in their legal authority than

resolutions adopted for instance by the Commission on the Status of

Women over the years requesting that Members report on measures taken

to implement the Conventions on Political Rights of Women, on the

Page 17

Nationality of Married Women, or on the Registration of Marriages or

on the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

or on progress achieved in implementing the goals of the UN Decade for

Women. Such resolutions are recommendary and failure to comply does

not carry the threat of global publicity in the UN General Assembly as

the Committee's rules of procedure imply it can propose.

Fourth, the Committee itself, according to Article 17, consists

of 23 experts competent in the fields covered by the Convention and

selected according to geographic principles by States Parties to serve

in their personal capacities. The Committee is to meet regularly

every year to review national reports. Representatives of UN

Specialized Agencies may attend meetings of the Committee for

discussion of provisions of the Convention that fall within the scope

of their activities and may even be invited by the Committee to submit

provisions in their reports on competence. According to Article 18,

48 States Parties should have submitted Reports to the Committee as of

this writing. Thus far, only 14 reports less then one-third of those

due, have in fact been submitted. The low rate of reporting may seem

to reflect lack of interest or failure to take obligations seriously.

Before making this conclusion, we should note that at its second

session (1983), the CEDAW adopted a set of general guidelines on the

form and content of Reports to be submitted to the Committee to assist

States Parties.in preparing Reports ensure that they observed

uniformity in reporting and enable the Committee to obtain "a complete

picture" of the progress made in implementing the Convention. The

guidelines call for a two-part Report. Part I is to describe "the

actual, general, social, economic, political and legal framework" of

Page 18

the State's approach to the Convention, institutions established to

promote "principles of the Convention and legal and other measures

taken including whether provisions of the Convention can be invoked or

enforced by the courts. Part II is to provide specific information on

constitutional, legislative and administrative provisions already in

force plus new developments since entry into force as well as legal or

practical restrictions or limitations, even of a temporary nature, on

the enjoyment of each right.26

The 14 Reports submitted so far reflect an uneven quality because

they were submitted prior to the preparation and adoption of the

guidelines. Six are from Eastern European States, two from Latin

America, two from Asia, two from Western Europe, one each from Africa

and the Middle East.27 Yet they proved useful to the Committee's

deliberations on the general guidelines. Eleven of the 14 Reporting

States are members of the Committee. Twelve members have not yet

reported. Perhaps they along with others who have not submitted

Reports are treating this interval as a "grace period" to prepare

Reports in conformity with those guidelines. Thus, it may be too soon

to assess the impact of the Reporting requirement. Yet it should be

remembered that under the Committee's rules of procedure, a consensus

decision, or failing consensus, a simple majority vote is all that is

necessary for the Committee to send reminders to states that have not

submitted reports. To be an effective enforcement mechanism, however,

the Committee will need to encourage compliance with the reporting

requirements, and promote their expeditious consideration as well as

their judicious examination. While the present CEDAW session and

subsequent sessions are likely to begin to demonstrate whether CEDAW

Page 19

will have this capability, the Convention and its Committee offer

important potential means for promoting accpetance of the norm

outlawing discrimination against women in all spheres of activity.


Several conclusions can be drawn from this discussion. First,

despite admonitions of the UN Charter Articles and the provisions of

the Universal Declaration on Human Rights that fundamental freedoms

and human rights dshall be promoted without distinction as to ...

sex...; it has taken almost 35 years to develop the international norm

outlawing discrimination against women and almost 40 years to adopt

meaningful international mechanisms to promote enforcement of women's

rights. Yet the international norm itself as well as the two

international enforcement mechanisms, discussed here, have been

modeled along the lines of or in the shadow of international

instruments and enforcement mechanisms established to promote human


Second, and related to the first conclusion, historically, it may

not have been possible to have expected the UN Commission on the

Status of Women to move forward in developing the new communications

procedure or to support the Convention and its Committee without the

substantial development of international human rights instruments by

UN organs. What models would the Commission on the Status of Women

have used absent such enforcement mechanisms as Resolution 1503 and

those in several international human rights instruments, particularly

the Convention Against Discrimination Based on Race and the

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?

Page 20

Third, a related historic matter concerns the status of women

worldwide and the fact that the fashion of UN years and decades among

UN members in the 1970's led the Commission on the Status of Women in

1974 to propose an International Women's Year to be observed in 1975,

and endorse a UN Conference to commemorate the year which resulted in

declaring a UN Decade for Women, 1976-85. Subsequently, a UN

Mid-Decade Conference was held in Copenhagen in 1980 to evaluate

progress achieved. These worldwide activities have stimulated an

internationalization of the women's movement and called the attention

of governments, NGO's and individuals to the importance of improving

the condition of women and to the fact of women's plight, including

violations of their rights. International consciousness raising has

produced a new awareness among women and contributed to a climate in

which efforts to develop measures to enforce rights could bear


Fourth, the new enforcement mechanisms discussed here are

complimentary, not substitutes for one another. Each serves a

different though/ related purpose. The Convention and the Committee

under the Convention impose obligations on States Parties to "take all

appropriate measures"--legislative, judicial, administrative and

other--to promote the advancement of women and thereby to eliminate

discrimination against them in national societies, and to report to

the Committee.. But the Convention's obligations apply to States

Parties per se. Even if a greater number of states should ratify the

Convention, making the Convention's provisions a matter of broad

international moral authority for non-ratifying states, only states

parties must submit reports. Reports of States Parties are according

Page 21

to the general guidelines adopted by the Committee not to confine

themselves to lists of legal instruments but include the economic,

political, and social policies in the country as well as a discussion

of restrictions or limitations even temporary measures imposed by law

or practice on the enjoyment of women's rights.

If States Parties follow these guidelines, their reports may be

expected to provide information on measures taken as well as

restrictions or obstacles, that is, both positive and negative

information in terms of law and practice.

In contrast to the reporting system under the Convention, the new

procedure for handling complaints in the Commission on the Status of

Women is expected to elicit complaints alleging violations of domestic

law and/or practice on women's rights. The sources of such

allegations could be much broader than the sources of reports

submitted under the Convention. The 1984 working group in the

Commission said it examined 121 complaints. The point here, however,

is that the Commission's work would act as a check on the work of the

Committee and vice versa. If a States Party for instance submitted a

Report which failed to indicate restrictions or violations of women's

rights, members of the Committee or the Secretariat could check that

information and if found lacking, request the State to submit

additional information. Similarly, should a State Party faithfully

Report in addition to "measures taken", restrictions, violations or

obstacles to promoting women's rights, these may provide the Working

Group of the Commission with a check on complaints of alleged

violations of women's rights. Article 21 provides that the Reports of

the Committee are to be transmitted through ECOSOC to the General

Page 22

Assembly and also to the Commission on the Status of Women. Since the

Committee's annual report to ECOSOC will be considered along with the

Report of the Commission on the Status of Women in even numbered years

(because the latter meets biennially), the Council itself will be

able, should it wish, to check restrictions and obstacles identified

in one report with Commission's proposals regarding "emerging trends

and patterns of alleged violations."

Thus, while it is somewhat premature to assess the impact of

these new international enforcement mechanisms on improving the status

of women, there can be little doubt that they represent a turning

point in the international enforcement of women's rights from

paleolithic to neolithic times.

- 23 -


1. Panel'on International Enforcement of Human Rights, chaired by Dr. Thomas

Buergenthal, American Society of International Law, April, 1983, Washington,D.C.

To appear in ASIL Proceedings forthcoming. Louis B. Sohn and Thomas Buergenthal

International Protection of Human Rights, New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc.

1973 for an excellent discussion of the development of international human rights

law under the United Nations, the European Convention and the Organization of

American States.

2. Margaret E. Galey,"Promoting non-discrimination Against Women: The UN

Commission on the Status of Women",International Studies Quarterly, vol. 23

No. 2, June, 1979, pp. 273-302. Se also, "Symposium: Women and International

Human Rights," Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 3, #2 Spring, 1981 and especially

articles by Fran Hosken and Laura Reanda.

3. Galey, ibid, pp. 275, 279-281.

4. Ibid.,pp. 285-290.

5. UN Action in the Field of Human Rights, UN, New York, 1980, pp. 338-341.

6. Galey, op. cit., p. 286.

7. Ibid., pp. 285-287; see also the Report of the US Delegation to the 26th session

of the UN Commission on the Status of Women(mimeo) and the Report of the

US Delegation to the 27th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

(mimeo). Personal observations of the 27th session, March 20-April 5, 1978,

New York, UN Headquarters. See also UN, Commission on the Status of Women, Report

of the 27th Session(20 March-5April, 1978)(E/CN/6/620/Rev.l),p.45.

8. ECOSOC, Official Records, (E/1980/80) "Communications on the Status of Women",

(Res. 1980/30) Resolutions and Decisions of ECOSOC, New York, UN, 1980.

9. UN, Commission on the Status of Women, Report of the 29th session(24 February-

5 March, 1982)(E/CN.6/1982/14), UN, New York, 1982,pp.38-43. The vote on the

resolution adopted on March 4, 1982 was: Canada, France, Finland, Guatemala,

24 -
Honduras,-Japan, Italy, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago,

UK, US, Venezuela and Zaire in favor; Cuba, Czechoslovakia, GDR, India,

Ukraine, USSR opposed; China, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Senegal abstained.

10. Resolution 1983/39,"Communications concerning Human Rights',' UN Commission on

Human Rights, Report of the 39th session(January 31-March 11, 1983; E/CN.4/1983/

60), pp, 171-173. The resolution was adopted on 9 March 1983 by a recorded

vote of 30(West plys Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Fiji, Gambia,

Ghana, Jordan, Mexico, Mecaragua, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo, Uganda,

Uruguay, and Zaire)--4(Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, USSR)-8(Argentina, China, Cuba,

India, Libya, Pakistan, Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe). ECOSOC Resolution 1983/27

was adopted by a vote of 34(West including US)--5(Eastern bloc)--10.

11. For the text of the resolution, see UN, Commission on the Status of Women,

29th session, op.cit., pp.9-10.

12. UN, Commission on the Status of Women, 30th session, Vienna, 15-24 February

1984, Draft Report,Chapter on Communications concerning the Status of Women,pp.1-3.

13. Ibid.

14. Personal Observations of the 1978 and 1980 sessions of the Commission.

See also statement by Ms. Horbal to the UN Commission on the Status of Women

on item #7,"Communications", April 3, 1978, Press Release, US/UN-22(78) mimeo.

See Also, Commission on the Status of Women, 28th session, op.cit.,pp.56-61.

15. See note 8 for ECOSOC Resolution.

16. UN, Commission on the Status of Women, report of the 29th session, pp.

See also Report of the US Delegation to the 29th session of the UN Commission

on the Status of Women, 1982, p. 4.(mimeo)

17. For text of the Convention ses U.S. Senate, Message from the President of the

US transmitting the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination

Against Women, 96th Congress, 2nd session, Executive R, USGPO, Washington,D.C., 1980.

25 -

See also Galey, op cit., especially pages, 279-281, and the essay by Catherine

Tinker, "Human Rights for Women: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms

of Discrimination Against Women", Human Rights Quarterly, op.cit.,pp.32-43.

18. Galey, op.cit.

19. UN, "Branch for the Advancement of Women, Center for Social Development and

Humanitarian Affairs, Status of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms

of Discrimination Against Women as of 31 January 1984", UN, Vienna, January, 1984.

(Decade Note #2).

20. GAOR, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against

Women, Report of the First Session,(A/38/45) UN, New York, 1983.

21. UN,Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, "Provisional

Agenda", second session(CEDAW/C/6, 30 May, 1983),pp. 1-3.

22. UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, "Provisional

Agenda", Third Session(26 March-6 April, 1984; CEDAW/C/9), February 7, 1984, pp.1-3.

23. See note 19. The US signed the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination

Against Women in the ceremony at Copenhagen, Denmark at the UN World Conference

of the UN Decade for Women in July, 1980; subsequently, President Carter transmitted

it to the Senate where it has been pending before the Senate Foreign Relations

Committee. For the text of the President's communication, see note 17.

24. UN, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, "Draft

Report of CEDAW", Second Session(CEDAW/C/8; 4 August, 1983), p. 2.

25. See note 20 for the text of "Rules of Procedure of the Committee...",pp.23035.

26. UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women,"General

Guidelines Regarding the Form and Contents of Reports Received from States Parties

Under Article 18 of the Convention," Second Session,(1-12 August, 1983;CEDAW/C/7)

11 August 1983, pp. 1-3.

27. UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, "Consideration

of Reports, Comments and information submitted by States Parties under Article 18

of the Convention," Draft Report of the Second Session(l-12 August, 1983;CEDAW/C/8

26 -

Add. 1 through Add. 15. For individual initial reports see, UN,CEDAW/5/Add.l- 14.

Initial Reports from the GDR, Mexico, Hungary, Cuba, Byelorussia, Philippines, Norway,

Sweden, Panama, Egypt, Ukraine, USSR, Rwanda, and China.

28. Galey, op.cit.,pp. 273-274. US House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign

Affairs, Report of Congressional Staff Advisors to the US Delegation, UN World

Conference of the UN Decade for Women, Copenhagen, Denmark, July, 14-30, 1980,

USGPO, Washington, 1980, pp. 1-28.

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