Optional Protocol


Remedying human rights violations of women across borders

Ratify the Optional Protocol, which Protects Justice


Interviewing Ms. Patten, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

Asahi Shimbun, June 27, 2009


There is a system, through which women, who were unable to achieve remedies for human rights violations even after going to the domestic court, can ask for support from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Ms. Pramila Patten, a Member of the Committee, visited Japan this month, to exchange views with government officials on the Optional Protocol of the Convention, which provides for this system. Most of the developed countries have ratified it, with the exception of the United States and Japan, and it is said that in the U.S., which has not ratified the Convention itself, the government of President Obama is looking favorably to a ratification. I asked Ms. Patten on why the Optional Protocol is necessary.


(Mieko Takenobu)


What is the Optional Protocol about?

One feature is the “communication mechanism” in which individuals and groups, who could not receive remedies for their human rights violations, even though they completed all the domestic procedures, can submit a communication to the CEDAW directly, which can examine the case and ask the government to take measures that may be necessary to solve the issue. The other is a mechanism, in which the Committee can initiate inquiries into grave or systematic violations of rights with the cooperation of the State Party in question.


Could you give specific examples?

Of the 186 State Parties to the Convention, 97 have ratified the Optional Protocol, and the Committee has received many communications. One example, in which the Committee asked the government to train their civil service personnel is the case against Austria two years ago. The wife had asked the police and the courts for help from her husband’s violence, but they did not detain or take any other measures against him, and she was killed. Her family submitted the communication. The system was perfect, including shelters and legal aid, but because of the response of the civil service personnel implementing it, the government was held responsible.


Are practical remedies necessary?

The Convention is justice on paper, and the “communication mechanism” is a tool that realizes the justice through the communications from victims.


In Japan, there is opposition to the mechanism, saying that communicating to international organizations because you are not satisfied with the results of the court case, will infringe on the independence of the judiciary.

That is based on a misunderstanding. The role of the judiciary is to implement law and not to write law. If there is a law saying women cannot wear black suits, the judge will have to decide according to the law, even when he does not agree with it. If the law is changed after the Committee’s recommendation, the judge can issue a fair judgment, and can help implement justice.


There are some in the government, that raise concern on the budgetary measures necessary for compensation in case of government’s negligence.

Ratification of the Convention means that the government committed itself to eliminating gender discrimination. The communication mechanism was created to help government implement the commitment. If is keeping that commitment, it should not be afraid of communications or compensations.

Mauritius, my country, and Turkmenistan, the latest country to ratify the Convention, both faced resistance at first, but when I explained that there was nothing to be afraid of, when they have the commitment to achieve gender equality, they understood.


Would the communication mechanism help Japanese women?

The Committee has consistently raised concern on the issue of the wage gap between men and women in Japan, but there has been no progress. It is of concern that the high level of education of women is not reflected in the labor market. Policies eliminating the stereotypes, saying it is all rights for women to be in low-paying jobs, are necessary. The communication mechanism can be a tool to change the domestic stereotypes through international perspectives.