Administration and Secretariat of OP CEDAW
With the adoption of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW (OP-CEDAW) in December 2000, the CEDAW Committee has the power to receive complaints by women or on behalf of groups of women, through the Communications Procedure. The OP-CEDAW also gives the CEDAW Committee the power to launch an inquiry into grave and systematic violations of women's human rights on its own initiative.
The administration of the Communications Procedure and the Inquiry Procedure is the responsibility of the CEDAW Committee and its Secretariat (the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR). To carry out its quasi-judicial role in relation to the effective consideration of communications and inquiries, designated members of OHCHR and the CEDAW Committee may be assigned tasks by this expert body.
In all instances, the proper administration of the OP-CEDAW is ensured by a system of regular reporting between OHCHR and designated members of the CEDAW Committee. Moreover, the Committee has adopted a detailed set of official guidelines "Rules of Procedure" on the administration of communications and inquiries under the OP-CEDAW.
In ratifying or acceding to the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention (OP-CEDAW), States parties are expressly recognising the competence of the 23 independent experts who sit in the CEDAW Committee to address violations of women's rights through two main procedures: the Communications Procedure and the Inquiry Procedure.
Although final views and recommendations resulting from the review of communications and/or inquiry procedures adopted by the full Committee, individual members may be tasked to carry out specific functions. Thus the CEDAW Committee may establish working groups and designate rapporteurs to assist in matters related to the OP-CEDAW.
It is also important to note that the CEDAW Committee must work within a set of rigid rules and procedures which govern how its members approach and resolve any communication or inquiry received.
The CEDAW Committee may establish one or more working groups, each comprising no more than five of its members, to make recommendations and assist in the administration of the procedures established by the OP-CEDAW.
The Working Group on Communications
In accordance with Rule 62 of the Rules of Procedure, the CEDAW Committee has established a Working Group on Communications to assist with information received by way of communications. This working group, comprising five members of the CEDAW Committee, works in close liaison with the Secretariat (the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights). Its role is to:
- Ascertain whether a communication should be registered. Such a decision can be made on a majority basis within the Working Group;
- Decide whether a communication is admissible. This decision must be made unanimously within the Working Group (in accordance with Rule 64). If the decision cannot be made unanimously at this stage, then the entire CEDAW Committee must make a decision.
- Request, where necessary, that interim measures be taken by the States party in order to avoid irreparable damage to the victim or victims of the alleged violation (in accordance with Rule 63 of the Rules of Procedure);
- Make recommendations to the CEDAW Committee on the merits of a communication (in accordance with Rule 72).
In order to facilitate the efficient processing of communications, the Working Group on Communications meets prior to the regular sessions of the CEDAW Committee and is tasked to provide the Committee with the results of its work as soon as possible.
Other Working Groups
In accordance to the Rule 62, it is possible for the CEDAW Committee to establish more working groups. As more inquiries are initiated, it may be possible that the Committee will decide to set up a working group on inquiries.
Rule 62 of the Rules of Procedure also empowers the CEDAW Committee to designate one or more of its members as rapporteurs. When doing this, the CEDAW Committee will decide the mandate and responsibilities of each rapporteur. Rapporteurs may be tasked to make recommendations to the committee in relation to communications received, inquiries initiated and general matters pertaining with the administration of the OP-CEDAW. Rapporteurs may also be designated to assist with work under the OP-CEDAW in any manner that the CEDAW Committee decides.
All communications and information on potential inquiries submitted to the CEDAW Committee must first be received and reviewed by the Secretariat to the committee, i.e. the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The Rules of Procedure for the OP-CEDAW adopted by the CEDAW Committee outline the role and responsibilities of the Secretariat in the administration of the Communications Procedure and Inquiry Procedure. For example:
i) In relation to the Communications Procedure, the OHCHR will decide initial (prima facie) admissibility of the communications received. In doing so the OHCHR will consider whether:
- Sufficient information has been provided in the communication. If the communication lacks information the OHCHR will seek further details from the author(s) of the petition.
- Claims are manifestly unfounded and should not be pursued. The OHCHR must submit a regular report to the Working Group on the number of such complaints.
- Potential communications should be summarised with a view to registration.
ii) Correspondence should be rerouted to other procedures within the UN.
- In relation to the Inquiry Procedure, the OHCHR will also carry out important roles such maintaining a permanent register of information brought to the attention to the CEDAW Committee that can be used as basis for an inquiry (Article 8.1 of the OP-CEDAW).