About OP CEDAW
On 6 October 1999, the UN General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Optional Protocol).
With its adoption came the establishment of two new mechanisms, a communication procedure and an inquiry procedure, which supplemented the reporting procedure (art 18) and dispute settlement clause (art 29) in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
The communication procedure confers authority on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) to consider communications (i.e., complaints) submitted by or on behalf of individual women or groups of individual women, claiming that a State Party has violated their rights in CEDAW.
The inquiry procedure empowers the Committee to conduct inquiries into reliable allegations that a State Party has committed grave or systematic violations of rights in CEDAW.
Why use the Optional Protocol?
There are a number of reasons why someone might decide to use the Optional Protocol to CEDAW.
A woman might decide to use the Optional Protocol to CEDAW because she wants to:
- seek redress for violations of her human rights, but there are no further means of obtaining redress at the national level;
- hold the State Party accountable for its actions or inactions;
- draw international attention to her case in an attempt to mobilise support and apply pressure on the State Party to provide redress;
- bring about structural change (e.g., law reform) and/or a change in state practice to prevent similar violations from occurring again;
- bring her case to a body of gender equality experts that can scrutinise the State Party’s actions;
- strengthen jurisprudence on women’s human rights;
- establish an international legal precedent that would compel a State Party to address violations of women’s human rights; and
- provide a focus for national advocacy on women’s rights issues.
The Optional Protocol is not, however, the only or necessarily the most effective means available to address specific violations of women’s human rights. For example, the Optional Protocol might be time and resource intensive to use, especially when domestic remedies must be exhausted first. Moreover, even if it is found that the State Party violated rights guaranteed by CEDAW, there is no guarantee that it will implement the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee.
Whether or not it is appropriate to use the Optional Protocol in a particular case requires careful consideration of the facts, the alleged victim’s circumstances, and the potential benefits and risks of using the Optional Protocol.
See what Elizabeth Evatt AC, a former member of the CEDAW Committee and the Human Rights Committee, has to say about using the Optional Protocol to CEDAW.
See what Navi Pillay says about the value of using the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Toonen v Australia, a landmark decision of the Human Rights Committee on the decriminalisation of consensual sexual conduct between persons of the same-sex.
Source: adapted from Simone Cusack, Mechanisms for Advancing Women’s Human Rights: A Guide to Using the Optional Protocol to CEDAW and Other International Complaint Mechanisms (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2011), 3-7
For further information about the practical considerations involved in deciding whether to use the Optional Protocol, see:
Simone Cusack, Mechanisms for Advancing Women’s Human Rights: A Guide to Using the Optional Protocol to CEDAW and Other International Complaint Mechanisms (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2011), pp. 37-43
For further information on the status of registered communications, see:
Simone Cusack, Status of Registered Communications by Communication (updated 3 November 2012)
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Status of Registered Communications by State Party (updated 2 March 2011)
For further information on the status of registered inquiries, see:
Simone Cusack, Status of inquiries by inquiry (updated 11 June 2012)
Last updated: 12 November 2012