Basic information

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (OP-CEDAW) was adopted by UN General Assembly in October 1999 and was opened for signatures in December 1999. It came into force in December 2000 after being ratified by 10 countries. As of February 2008, there are 96 State Parties to the Optional Protocol to CEDAW (the states that acceded to/ratified the Optional Protocol). The Optional Protocol is a separate treaty that supplements the CEDAW Convention. To become party to the Optional Protocol, the state has to be a party to the Convention and then it must also ratify the Optional Protocol. The Protocol does not permit any reservations by State Parties. However, it allows a State Party to declare that it does not recognize the competence of the CEDAW Committee to apply one of the procedures provided by the OP – the inquiry procedure.

The Optional Protocol does not introduce any new rights but strengthens the Convention by establishing two procedures that can be used to address the violations of women’s human rights protected by it:

  •  the communications procedure – the procedure which allows the individuals or groups of individuals who claim to be victims of violations of women’s rights to lodge complaints with the CEDAW Committee, the UN body monitoring the implementation of the Convention. The complaints can be also submitted on behalf of the alleged victims but in such case their consent is required unless acting without such consent can be justified. The communications procedure allows the complainants to seek redress for the breaches of women’s human rights protected by the Convention. All States Parties to OP-CEDAW recognize the competence of the Committee to receive and consider the communications submitted under this procedure. The interim measures

The Optional Protocol provides the CEDAW Committee with the mandate to transmit to the State Party concerned for its urgent consideration a request to take the necessary interim measures aimed at protecting the victim/victims of the alleged violations from the possible irreparable damage.

The Committee may use this mechanism if it believes that the victim is exposed to physical or mental harm of irreparable consequences. Interim measures may be ordered by the Committee at any time after receiving the communication:

  •  the inquiry procedure – the mechanism under which the CEDAW Committee may conduct the investigation, preferably in cooperation with the State Party concerned, into “grave and systematic violations” of the women’s human rights protected by CEDAW that occur within the jurisdiction of the State Party. The State Party may, at the time of signing, ratifying or acceding to the OP-CEDAW, declare that it does not recognize the competence of the CEDAW Committee to apply the inquiry procedure (the so-called ‘opting-out’ clause). Therefore, individuals or groups that consider appealing to the Committee for initiating the investigation under this procedure should check whether the State party concerned has not ‘opted-out’ of it.

More about: communication procedure and inquiry procedure

The Optional Protocol provides the CEDAW Committee with an instrument to contribute to improving the State’s understanding of the rights protected by the Convention. It can stimulate positive changes in laws and practices that are discriminatory against women. The communications procedure enables the Committee to explore the individual cases of women’s rights abuse and to request that the States take appropriate measures to improve the observance of these rights. The possibility of filing the complaint might also motivate the States Parties to improve access to remedies at the national level for victims of alleged women’s rights violations.