New Protocol a Powerful Tool for Human Rights [Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women]

Article excerpt

(New York) On March 12, 1999, in the dim chambers of the United Nations building, the Commission on the Status of Women created a new mechanism to address women's human rights violations.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) will enable women from around the world to make complaints regarding violations of the rights set out in CEDAW. In years to come, the creation of this new human rights instrument will have a profound impact.

It is "optional" because countries can decide whether or not to sign on to these complaint mechanisms. A country can be a signatory to CEDAW, but not to the Protocol. If a country is a signatory to CEDAW, as Canada is, it agrees to comply with the terms of the convention and to provide regular reports on the measures it has taken to do so. However, a country that also signs on to the protocol gives permission for women in that country to make complaints to the CEDAW Committee. Women who make complaints of sex discrimination under domestic law and lose will be able to take their complaints a step further, to the international arena. This additional step may prove invaluable when domestic courts or tribunals have interpreted women's rights too narrowly.

Though there are other complaint mechanisms, such as the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, CEDAW is the only human rights treaty that specifically focusses on women. This protocol will allow for the development, at the international level, of a body of woman-specific interpretations of rights and decisions that are responsive to women's real conditions. There is currently a lack of gender focus of other UN bodies that oversee human rights conventions. Also, attaching an Optional Protocol to CEDAW is likely to give it a more serious profile among human rights treaties. This too is badly needed since women's human rights still do not enjoy equal attention or status in the broader scheme of human rights guarantees.

The central elements of the new protocol include:

Complaint Adjudication. An individual or a group of individuals can make a complaint alleging that their CEDAW rights have been violated. …