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The committee responsible for monitoring state compliance with the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) says it increased its activism in the last two years by working more closely with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to develop its agenda, and with select parliamentarians and jurists to enforce it across the globe. On the other hand, according to the report, many nations are simply ignoring the committee and refusing to send in their reports.

In its “Report to the Secretary General” the committee said that it is working assiduously to enforce its interpretations of the treaty by creating new “rapporteurs” to “follow-up” on country reports, using UN agencies to implement their agenda, and working with individual parliamentarians and judges to influence national laws and policies.

It has also increased the amount of “pre-session” time that allows activists to sway the committee, mostly from US-based NGOs among which it has “attract[ed] wide followership.”

But the report says that 30% of states parties to the convention are choosing not to participate in the controversial country reviews at all.

“As of 15 August 2009, 56 States parties had a total of 102 overdue reports, including 20 initial reports … [some of which have] been overdue for more than five years.”

Many periodic reports have been overdue for more than a decade, the report says.

CEDAW has 186 state parties.

Similarly, the report touts the fact that the committee is “developing its jurisprudence” through its work under the ten year old CEDAW Optional Protocol.

A separate document from the treaty, the optional protocol, allows individual citizens from its 98 member states to submit complaints about their own government directly to the committee.

Though human rights activists promote this venue available under the Optional Protocol as a sort of international judiciary that can hand down judgments against sovereign states and promote new norms, such opinions by the committee are non-binding.

The report indicates that the venue has gained little credibility among the public, admitting that “few communications have been submitted” and those that were received in 2008-2009 were thrown out as unsubstantiated.

Despite the apathy from many nations, the report asserts that “the Committee’s concluding observations must be considered as authoritative and its new follow-up procedure in this context should be implemented fully by States parties.”

Pro-life and pro-family groups have long criticized the fact that the CEDAW committee has read a right to abortion into the treaty via its “General Recommendation 24” even though abortion is never mentioned in the document.

Since adopting the “general recommendation” in 1999, the committee has pressured more than 90 countries to liberalize their abortion laws.

The report announces “a joint working group” between CEDAW and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and promotion of a “unified and integrated human rights treaty body system.”

Critics argue that this increasing collaboration among the human rights committees not only subverts the intended meaning of treaties, but detracts from the differentiation of purpose among the treaties.

The CEDAW committee created one new general recommendation in the last two years and is working on three more, including guidance on article 2, which concerns national constitutions and penal codes.

[26Nov09, Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D., New York, NY, C-FAM,]