CEDAW Committee Elections Promise More of the Same in Abortion Promotion

Elections to fill openings for half of the 23 seats of the committee charged with monitoring compliance to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) were held at United Nations (UN) headquarters [last] week.   Prior to the vote, delegations actually campaigned, leafleting the crowd with promotional material in support of their candidates.  Nearly all of the 186 states parties to the CEDAW treaty cast ballots as representatives from Turkey, Paraguay, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Bangladesh, Slovenia, Mauritius, Timor L’Este, Switzerland and Croatia were elected to the committee.

Twenty-one candidates from across the globe vied for the open positions, but in the end, the majority of the slots went to previous members of the committee including three former committee chairmen.

According to the CEDAW treaty, committee members are elected by States Parties from among their nationals, but members serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of any particular State Party. Members of the committee should be “independent” and “of high moral standing and competence.” The newly-elected members will serve four-year terms starting in January 2011.

Despite the requirement that CEDAW committee members remain “independent,” many past and current members of the committee are direct employees or hold advisory positions at such pro-abortion non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as the Latin America and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights, the International Women’s Rights Action Watch and the Global Fund for Women.

Critics have been concerned over the committee’s long-time abortion activism, pushing countries to strike down punitive measures, calling for liberalized access and decriminalization despite the fact that the CEDAW treaty makes no mention of abortion. Over 80 countries have been questioned on their abortion laws to date.  At least one country, Colombia, actually used committee comments as justification to change their laws on abortion.

The CEDAW committee’s next session will take place in New York later this month and already the committee has sent written question on abortion to more than half of the countries scheduled to be reviewed.

The influence of the CEDAW committee within the treaty monitoring system is expected to expand in the coming months with increased harmonization amongst the various treaty monitoring bodies.  Before the CEDAW committee election, Jessica Neuwirth, New York director for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), highlighted a new joint working group between the OHCHR and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Neuwirth reported that the group met for the first time in January 2010 “to consider common areas of concern,” including the drafting of a new joint general recommendation.

Apart from expanding work with other treaty monitoring committees, Neuwirth also reported on a new accountability mechanism. In an effort “to enhance its working methods,” the CEDAW Committee appointed former CEDAW chair Dubravka Simonivic as rapporteur to follow-up on the non-binding concluding observations issued to countries after their reviews. With the follow-up procedure, the CEDAW committee would include a request to individual States Parties for information on steps taken to implement specific recommendations contained in those concluding observations. The request would call on States Parties to provide such information within two years.  However, States Parties are completely free to ignore any request made by the committee.

The CEDAW Committee will next meet from July 12 – 30.

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