CEDAW session under threat due to UN budget shortfall

In April 2019, news emerged of financial cutbacks likely to impact United Nations human rights mechanisms.

What does this mean for CEDAW?

A letter sent on 30 April 2019 from Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to United Nations treaty body chairs, explained that due to financial shortfall, sessions of the following treaty bodies, originally scheduled for late 2019, were very likely to be postponed:

  • Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women
  • Committee on the Rights of the Child
  • Human Rights Committee
  • Committee Against Torture
  • Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture
  • Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

However, in a letter dated 18 June 2019, Ms Bachelet informed treaty body chairs that these sessions would go ahead as originally scheduled. This includes the 74th CEDAW session, covering Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lithuania and the Seychelles.

Ms Bachelet’s letter of 30 April noted that these treaty bodies were likely to each hold only two sessions each in 2020, but three CEDAW sessions were subsequently announced for 2020, as follows:

75th CEDAW session (February 2020): Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Eritrea, Kiribati, Lithuania, Moldova, Pakistan and Zimbabwe

76th CEDAW session (June-July 2020): Bahrain, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Gabon, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Mongolia, Panama

77th CEDAW session (October-November 2020): Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Senegal, South Africa, Sweden, Uruguay, Yemen

Despite this apparent reprieve, it was reported in October 2019 that the United Nations may have insufficient funds to pay staff in November.

Why did this financial situation arise?

This development is in large part due to UN member states not paying their fees. While we appreciate that this inevitably results in financial constraints, and member states should as such be held accountable, we are also deeply concerned by the internal deprioritisation of the treaty body system, coming as it does at a critical point when right-wing populism is chipping away at human rights around the world.

As of 7 October 2019, 129 of 193 member states had fully paid their dues in full. You can check whether yours is listed among them.

What can I do?

We encourage you to register your concern with the UN and, if your country has not fully paid its membership fees, with your representatives. You may wish to personalise your letters by describing your organisation’s work and its experiences with the treaty body system, or the threats to human rights which particularly concern you. You may also wish to focus on a different treaty body rather than CEDAW. Those listed above are all equally under threat.

In June 2019, IWRAW Asia Pacific, together with 296 other organisations and 366 individuals from around the world, sent an open letter to Permanent Representatives to the United Nations in Geneva and New York. You may wish to draw from this in writing your own letters.

Please copy us in on any correspondence. This is a critical moment, and we hope that as many groups as possible will mobilise to send the message that this state of affairs is unacceptable.

Further reading

Child Rights Connect and its members, “Members States Putting Human Rights at Risk by Delaying UN Membership Payments”, 17 May 2019

Deen, T., “UN’s Mandate to Protect Human Rights Takes Another Hit”, IPS, 20 May 2019

Cumming-Bruce, N., “Budget Cuts May Undercut the U.N.’s Human Rights Committees”, New York Times, 24 May 2019

World Organisation Against Torture, “United Nations Treaty Bodies: 400 NGOs Launch an Urgent Appeal”, 31 May 2019

Magazzeni, G., Statement made at the 73rd CEDAW Session, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1 July 2019