Last July, I participated in the 49th session of UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as an NGO observer, thanks to the support of Gong-gam and Min-byun (Lawyers for a Democratic Society).
Countries that have joined the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women must submit a report on the implementation of the convention every 4 years to the Committee, and the Committee reviews the government reports. Instead of the term “review,” the process is also referred to as “a constructive dialogue between government representatives and Committee (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) members.” The “dialogue” was carried out from July 11th to 29th in 8 countries, including a schedule in Korea on the 19th.
What was my role as attorney at Gong-gam and member of Min-byun? Before the session, domestic and international NGOs submit a “refutation report” after a careful analysis and review of the government report, so that the “dialogue” and be carried out “constructively,” The NGOs refute parts that contain wrong information, expose facts that are unrevealed in the report, and propose alternatives. NGOs also provide information to the Committee both formally and informally during the session as well. Such reports by NGOs are then reviewed as “information obtained by other routes.” Korean Women’s Association United, Min-byun, Korea Center for UN Human Rights Policy observers intervened in the review / deliberation process of the 29th CEDAW session in the same way.
Although the UN Conventions may differ, the role of the NGO in the country review process are more or less similar; due to the deep disappointment that I felt during the refutation of UN Social Rights report in 2009, I was doubtful about intervening in the CEDAW review process. Back in 2009, the government denied the recommendations by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which considered the “Yongsan Tragedy” as a result of forced eviction. As a result of the Korean government’s outright denial, we had to refute the government’s claim once again; I face profound frustration, looking at the UN Committee’s recommendations coming to no avail.
However, I hung on to the optimism we may expand the capacity of NGOs in the UN Convention mechanism; and that this time, we may exceed the evident limit imposed on us. I wanted to overcome the experience from the year 2009.
What were the results? Even under a volatile situation where the government reports were being reviewed by CEDAW, the dynamic cooperation between observers and activists achieved accomplishments beyond our expectations. Although it was not directly correlated to the work we to in the fields, we could still witness that our activities were affecting the deliberation and decision process of the CEDAW. In fact, our voices were being heard.
Of course, limits still do exist. As our opinions were delivered to the CEDAW and respective committees, they were reconstructed into rather vague, indirect, and political terms. Even so, I came to realize that behind a question (by the committee member to the government) and behind a recommendation lay relentless efforts by numerous organizations. I hope that we all can persistently continue women rights movements and activism, empowered by recommendations from CEDAW.
Attorney at Gong-gam