12.9 What is the Optional Protocol to CEDAW?

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The Optional Protocol to CEDAW was accepted by the UN General Assembly on 6 October 1999 and opened for signing and ratification by national governments that were parties to CEDAW. Its provisions became operational on 22 December 2000.

The purpose of the CEDAW Optional Protocol is to strengthen the enforcement mechanisms available for the rights within CEDAW. The Protocol provides for complaints to be taken directly to the UN. Although CEDAW represents a strong and valuable s tatement of women’s human rights, it is not always enforced by governments within their domestic legal systems. The rights exist, but they often fail to be enforced.

Complaints procedures such as the Optional Protocol exist under other international Conventions, for example the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). These optional agreements can be signed and ratified by any national government, which is already a party to the original Convention.

The Optional Protocol to CEDAW allows women to bring a complaint about a breach of the rights under CEDAW to the CEDAW committee. To bring a complaint, it must first be shown that all remedies available through the law in that country have been exhausted. It is important to note that the Optional Protocol does not create new rights, but provides a new enforcement mechanism for existing rights that have been in force since a national government became party to CEDAW.

In December 2008, Australia acceded to the CEDAW Optional Protocol, allowing individuals to bring a complaint directly to the CEDAW Committee after all domestic remedies have been exhausted. It also allows the UN to investigate claims of serious violations of CEDAW in Australia.