The Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) concluded its latest round of meetings, pressing all eight delegations under review on their abortion policies even though the treaty never mentions abortion. Bolivia, Burundi, Saudi Arabia, France, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Morocco and Sweden were each questioned on abortion in the CEDAW committee inaugural meeting in its new Geneva location.
Sylvia Pimentel of Brazil, one of the most outspoken and abortion-friendly members of the CEDAW Committee, emphasized that what she said was the urgent need for Bolivia to have a new draft law on sexual and reproductive rights as soon as possible. Pimentel, a professor at a Pontifical University, justified her line of questioning, "There are religious fundamentalist sectors in every country which interfere in matters related to sexual and reproductive rights." The CEDAW committee's concluding comments urged Bolivia "to adopt implementing regulations for existing laws on Bolivian women's right to therapeutic abortion."
Other delegations were similarly questioned. In what has become standard practice for the CEDAW Committee, members have tried to forge links between what they claim are high maternal mortality figures and illegal or clandestine abortion in order to urge states to increase access to "sexual and reproductive health services" including "family planning services."
In June, prior to its next round of meetings, the CEDAW Committee will be holding elections. Eleven experts on the 23-member committee will be up for renewal. Pro-abortion groups like the International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) are calling on their members to start lobbying their national governments regarding the CEDAW committee election. The IWRAW campaign stresses that "each CEDAW Committee member has the potential of advocating for women's rights," and warns that "there is a risk that unless women's groups get involved now, conservative states might do their best to ensure that partial experts are elected to the Committee."
According to Article 17 of the CEDAW Convention, committee members should be "of high moral standing and competence in the field covered by the Convention." Committee members are to be elected by States Parties from among their nationals and serve in their personal capacity. The committee's rules of procedure require that members solemnly declare to exercise their duties and powers "honorably, faithfully, impartially and conscientiously."
Pro-life groups note that in recent years the CEDAW Committee has questioned more than 60 nations on their abortion laws even going so far as creating their own "general recommendation" that reads abortion into the document even though the nations negotiated the treaty made sure that controversial issue was never mentioned. They are further concerned that about half of the current committee members are direct employees of NGOs, including such radical NGOs as IWRAW, the Latin America and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights, and the Global Fund for Women.
Nominations for new committee members are open until May.