Overview of the Inquiry Procedure
The Inquiry Procedure is a mechanism set-up under the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention (OP-CEDAW), through which the CEDAW Committee can issue comments and recommendations on grave or systematic violations of rights contained in the CEDAW Convention. Alternatively, the CEDAW Committee may decide to initiate an inquiry that addresses grave and systematic violations resulting from acts or omission by the States party concerned. The Inquiry Procedure is a mechanism that enables the CEDAW Committee to initiate and conduct investigations on large-scale or/and widespread violations of women's rights occurring within the jurisdiction of a States party.
- Grave violations would constitute severe abuses, for example, discrimination against women linked to violations of their rights to life, physical and mental integrity, and security of person. A single violation can be grave in nature and a single act can violate more than one right. The CEDAW Committee may determine that an inquiry into a single grave violation is appropriate on the basis of the facts in a particular situation (e.g. two hundred single mothers and their children being forcibly evicted from a public housing building).
- The term 'systematic' refers to the scale or prevalence of violations, or to existence of scheme or policy directing violations. Therefore violations not rising to the level of severity implied by 'grave' may still be the focus of inquiry if there is pattern, or abuses are committed pursuant to a scheme or policy. Violations may be systematic in character without resulting from the direct intention of the States party (e.g. a government policy promoting population control in rural areas may have resulted in the sterilisation of a large group of indigenous women without due consent or information).
The Inquiry Procedure:
- Enables the CEDAW Committee to address systematic and widespread violations;
- Allows the CEDAW Committee to recommend measures to combat the structural causes of discrimination against women; and
- Provides the CEDAW Committee with an opportunity to set out a broad range of recommendations to achieve equality between women and men.
The Inquiry Procedure will permit the CEDAW Committee to respond in a more timely way to serious violations that are in progress under the jurisdiction of a States party (e.g. the mass rape of women during riots or the disappearance and assassination of women's rights defenders.) It offers a means of addressing situations in which individual communications do not adequately reflect the systematic nature of widespread violations of women's rights or individuals or groups that are unable to submit communications due to practical constraints or fear of reprisals.
In accordance to Article 10 of the OP-CEDAW, States may "opt-out" of the Inquiry Procedure at the time of signature, accession or ratification.
The Inquiry Procedure is set forth in Articles 8 and 9 of the OP-CEDAW. The proceedings under the Inquiry Procedure of the OP-CEDAW can be found in Section XVII of the Rules or Procedure (Rules 76 to 91). There are 4 stages in the Inquiry Procedure.
STAGE 1: Submission of information on grave or/and systematic violations to the CEDAW Committee
Step 1: Information must be from a reliable source and presented accurately
- The Rules of Procedure indicate that the Inquiry Procedure is invoked upon receipt of 'reliable' information in accordance with Article 8 of the OP-CEDAW. Information should point to grave and/or systematic violations of one or more of the rights contained in the CEDAW Convention within the jurisdiction of the States party.
- This information can be received from any source (such as individuals, women's rights groups, local, national or international human rights organisations) but should expressly indicate that it is submitted for the purpose of initiating an inquiry. Unlike the Communications Procedure, information can be received from an anonymous source. Information submitted should contain some analysis of the violations in light of the provisions of the CEDAW Convention.
- The guidelines for reporting and the section on practical application of the OP-CEDAW may contain information that may prove useful in the preparatory stages. The sample communications form may also point to useful details to guide preparation of information.
Step 2: Information is submitted to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
- OHCHR will bring the information to the attention of the CEDAW Committee and will maintain a permanent register of information received.
- It is important to that information received will also be available to any member of the CEDAW Committee upon request.
STAGE 2: Initial consideration and review of information received by the CEDAW Committee
Step 3: CEDAW Committee receives reliable information regarding violations
The threshold for initiating an inquiry is that of 'reliable information' revealing violations which appear to be grave and/or systematic in nature.
- The CEDAW Committee may request OHCHR to ascertain the reliability of the information and/or sources of information. The CEDAW Committee may also request a working group to assist in this regard. They are authorised where necessary, to seek further evidence corroborating the violation alleged or confirming the reliability of the allegation(s).
- It is important to note that all documents and proceedings of the CEDAW Committee related to the conduct of inquiries are confidential.
Step 4: CEDAW Committee requests further information (Submissions from the States party and others)
- Having examined and confirmed, as far as possible, the reliability of the information, the CEDAW Committee will submit this information to the relevant States party. The States party will be required to submit observations and/or further information on the violations being considered by the CEDAW Committee within a fixed timeframe.
- Rule 83 further authorises the CEDAW Committee to seek information where necessary from other governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations and individuals.
Step 5: CEDAW Committee deliberates on "reliability" of the information
- When all information has been collated, it is evaluated having regard to the threshold of "grave or systematic violations by a State party of rights set forth in the Convention".
- If after this evaluation, the CEDAW Committee deems an inquiry appropriate, it may designate one or more of its members to conduct an inquiry and to prepare a report within an established timeframe.
STAGE 3: The inquiry
Step 6: The inquiry is initiated by the CEDAW Committee
- The OP-CEDAW and its Rules of Procedure do not set out in detail the mode and format of any inquiry. In fact Rule 84 explicitly says "the members designated by the Committee to conduct the inquiry shall determine their own methods of work".
- The scope of the inquiry and methods of investigation are therefore given wide parameters, with the overarching advice that the consent and cooperation of the States party should be sought throughout the process.
- Rather than setting out precise instructions for the execution of an inquiry, indications are offered as to how it might to be conducted. The Rules of Procedure allow for the assistance of staff and facilities such as interpreters or experts where necessary. It is noted that, should the CEDAW Committee deem it necessary, a visit to the States party concerned may be appropriate.
STAGE 4: Comments, recommendations and follow-up
Step 7: CEDAW Committee transmits findings, comments and recommendations to the States party
- Having considered all the information available and conducted state visits and hearings where necessary, the designated members submit their findings to the CEDAW Committee.
- Final findings may be based on information received from: (i) members of the CEDAW Committee designated to conduct the investigation, including the results of the on-site mission if one has been carried out; (ii) individual victims and witnesses; (iii) the States party; (iv) international, regional and national NGOs, including women's groups; and/or (v) other UN or regional human rights bodies or experts.
- The CEDAW Committee will consider the findings and adopt final comments and recommendations aimed at assisting the States party address the investigated violations effectively.
- After comments and recommendations are adopted, the CEDAW Committee will convey the results of the inquiry to the States party concerned (Rule 89 of Rules of Procedure).
Step 8: States party submits its observations to the CEDAW Committee's findings
- The States party has six months to submit its written observations on the findings, comments and recommendations to the CEDAW Committee.
Step 9: States party is requested to report on the implementation of recommendations resulting from the inquiry
- After the initial six-month period has lapsed, the CEDAW Committee may invite the States party concerned to inform it of the measures taken in response to the inquiry (Rule 90).
- Further, the States party may be requested to include in its States party report (under Article 18 of the CEDAW Convention) measures taken in response to the findings of the inquiry and attempts made to implement the recommendations.
- As with the Communications Procedure, the findings and recommendations of the CEDAW Committee in response to an inquiry have no legally binding impact. However, given that it reveals to the international community, evidence of grave and/or systematic abuses of the rights of women, an inquiry can prove invaluable ammunition in a national or international campaign for reform and redress.
Produced for IWRAW Asia Pacific by NYU Law School International Human Rights Clinic
Report on the abduction, rape and murder of women in the Ciudad Juárez area of Chihuahua, Mexico, 1/2005
Sources: Adapted from Donna Sullivan in Inter-American Institute of Human Rights Publication Optional Protocol: Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, 2000) and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol. Handbook for Parliamentaries (UN, 2003)