The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning opened its eightieth session, hearing a statement from Mahamane Cissé-Gouro, Director, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and adopting its agenda for the session during which it will review the reports of Ecuador, Egypt, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Russian Federation, South Africa, South Sudan, Sweden and Yemen.
Mr. Cissé-Gouro thanked the Committee for its tireless efforts to prevent a protection gap for women and girls worldwide by working online over the past year and a half, also between sessions, in often challenging circumstances. He said the recent events in Afghanistan had attracted much attention. At this critical juncture, where women and girls in Afghanistan faced extraordinary challenges, the High Commissioner had made it clear that her Office would remain at their side – and Mr. Cissé-Gouro said he knew that the Committee and the other human rights mechanisms would do the same. He said he was aware that the Committee had a heavy programme ahead of it for the next four weeks, including notably constructive dialogues with 10 States parties and extended his best wishes to all of them for a successful and productive session.
Gladys Acosta Vargas, Chairperson of the Committee, said that the Committee had decided to consider the reports from the following States parties, whose consideration had been postponed from previous sessions, at the eightieth session: Ecuador, Egypt, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Russian Federation, South Africa, South Sudan, Sweden and Yemen. The Committee adopted the agenda of the session.
Committee Experts and the Chair spoke about their intersessional activities.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. to hear statements by national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations on the situation of women in Maldives and Sweden, whose reports will be considered this week.
MAHAMANE CISSÉ-GOURO, Director, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, thanked the Committee for its tireless efforts to prevent a protection gap for women and girls worldwide by working online over the past year and a half, also between sessions, in often challenging circumstances. The recent events in Afghanistan had attracted much attention. The rapid takeover of power by the Taliban had raised fears of a return to the brutal and systematic repression of women during the 1990s. Despite verbal commitments made by the Taliban to ensure the rights of women, the High Commissioner had deplored that practices on the ground contradicted these stated commitments. She noted that women had been progressively excluded from the public sphere and that women were largely prohibited from appearing in public space without a male guardian. To date, girls above the age of 12 had in effect been excluded from attending school, while university students had been sex segregated, with women students to be taught by women professors – of whom there were very few.
The Secretary-General had made it clear that the United Nations would engage with the Taliban to promote the human rights of Afghans, with special attention to the rights of women and girls. The High Commissioner had recalled that this meant that women and girls must be free to move about without impediment of specific restrictions and had full and equal access to essential services, including but not limited to healthcare and all levels of education. At this critical juncture, where women and girls in Afghanistan faced extraordinary challenges, the High Commissioner had made it clear that her Office would remain at their side – and Mr. Cissé-Gouro said he knew that the Committee and the other human rights mechanisms would do the same.
Mr. Cissé-Gouro commended the Committee for its work on mainstreaming women’s rights into the Agenda for Women, Peace and Security. The thirty-third annual meeting of chairpersons of international human rights treaty bodies in June, chaired by the Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, had presented detailed proposals to be considered by all Committees during their meetings until the end of the year. The Office of the High Commissioner would continue to support treaty bodies in this crucial endeavor for the future of the treaty body system with a view to reaching consensus on key issues on (1) developing a predictable review schedule that maximised synergies and complementarities among treaty bodies and ensured full compliance with reporting obligations, including the possibility of replacing every second review with a targeted review; (2) continuous harmonisation of working methods; and (3) the digital transition, including the use of new technologies to increase the efficiency, transparency and accessibility of the treaty body system.
Concluding, Mr. Cissé-Gouro said he was aware that the Committee had a heavy programme ahead of it for the next four weeks, including notably constructive dialogues with 10 States parties. He extended his best wishes to all of them for a successful and productive session.
In response to questions on how the work of the human rights treaty bodies would proceed given the pandemic, Mr. Cissé-Gouro said that it was the wish of the Office of the High Commissioner for treaty bodies to hold face to face meetings, but no one knew how the pandemic would evolve. They heard there were flareups, but that the situation was under control. He hoped the Committee would be able to meet at its next session in February face to face, but all options remained open. The secretariat would continue to do their utmost to support the Committee whether in face to face or remote meetings. The Office of the High Commissioner hoped to be able to return to the previous type of meetings, face to face, as it had a greater impact. However, if this was not the case, all had an obligation to ensure that there was no gap and they would continue to do their work because the victims were paramount.
In response to another questions, Mr. Cissé-Gouro said that the time for norm setting was over, it was important to focus now on implementation. They needed to ensure outreach and coordination. The Office would continue to support the Committee’s work, as well as the countries and victiMs. As for resources, most Chairs of other treaty bodies had asked for additional sessions. However, the reality was that the Office did not have the resources. It was the Member States who controlled the resources. The High Commissioner had again stressed to the Third Committee recently that the Office and the treaty bodies needed more resources. He hoped the Third Committee would increase the budget.
GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Chairperson of the Committee, said she was very happy that the Committee was finally able to meet in Geneva for this first in-person session since February 2020. Since the last session, the number of States parties that had ratified or acceded to the Convention remained at 189. Similarly, the number of States parties that had accepted the amendment to article 20, paragraph 1, of the Convention concerning the Committee’s meeting time remained at 80. A total of 126 States parties to the Convention were currently required to accept the amendment in order to bring it into force, in accordance with its provisions. The number of States parties to the Optional Protocol to the Convention remained at 114.
LOUIZA CHALAL, Committee Member and Chair of the Pre-sessional Working Group for the Eightieth Session, said the Working Group met from 1 to 3 and on 5 March 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It prepared lists of issues and questions with regard to the reports of China, Hungary, Mauritania, Namibia, Uganda and United Arab Emirates, in addition to lists of issues prior to reporting for Bhutan, Chile and Italy. The lists of issues and questions and lists of issues prior to reporting adopted by the pre-sessional working group were transmitted to the States parties concerned.
GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Chairperson of the Committee, said that bearing in mind the backlog of State party reports pending consideration by the Committee accumulated during the COVID-19 pandemic, when no in-person sessions with constructive dialogues with States parties could take place in Geneva, the Committee had decided to postpone the consideration of the States parties referred to in the report of the pre-sessional Working Group to future sessions. The Committee instead decided to consider the reports from the following States parties, whose consideration had been postponed from previous sessions, at the eightieth session: Ecuador, Egypt, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Russian Federation, South Africa, South Sudan, Sweden and Yemen.
LOUIZA CHALAL, Committee Member and Rapporteur on Follow-up, said that as Rapporteur on follow-up and with respect to agenda item 5 concerning the report on follow-up to the consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 18 of the Convention, she would brief the Committee on the status of the follow-up reports received in response to the Committee’s concluding observations. At the end of the seventy-ninth session, follow-up letters outlining the outcome of assessments of follow-up reports were sent to Angola, Australia, Bahamas, Colombia, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Nepal, Niger, Suriname, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. First reminders regarding overdue follow-up reports were sent to Cabo Verde, Côte-d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guyana and Mozambique. For this session, the Committee received follow-up reports from Austria on time, Ethiopia with a three-month delay, Fiji with a thirteen-month delay, Liechtenstein with an eleven-month delay, Qatar on time, Serbia with an one-month delay, and the United Kingdom with a three-month delay. First reminders regarding the submission of follow-up reports should be sent to Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lithuania and the Seychelles.