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It is possible for individuals and groups alleging violations of rights under the CEDAW to take a case to the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, but only if the defendant State has recognised the competence of the Committee to receive such applications. This is done by ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention and 78 countries have done so since the Optional Protocol entered into force in December 2000.

The jurisprudence of the Committee is at an embryonic stage, having only made three decisions since its first in July 2004, and so this course of action is only just beginning to be seen as a viable one. 

- Complaints may be submitted by or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals. If you submit a complaint on behalf of one or more persons, you must either show proof of their consent or justify acting on their behalf without their consent.
- Your complaint will be deemed to be inadmissible if it has already been decided upon by another procedure of international investigation or settlement. The Committee also has explicit authority to reject at an early stage complaints that are manifestly ill-founded or, in other words, plainly unjustified.
- It should first be noted that when the Committee takes a decision (formally called a "view") on the merits of a case, it may also, like the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, make recommendations. Pursuant to the follow-up procedure set out in article 7 of the Optional Protocol, the State party is required, within six months of receiving the Committee’s decision and recommendations, to submit a written response detailing any action taken thereon.

When considering taking a complaint to one of the UN treaty bodies such as the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, it is also important to take into account the following: 

- The basic concept is that anyone may bring a complaint alleging a violation of treaty rights to the body of experts set up by the treaty for quasi-judicial adjudication. They are composed of experts elected by States parties to the relevant treaty. They are tasked with monitoring implementation in States parties of the rights set forth in the treaties and with deciding on complaints brought against those States.

- The alleged victim must not be anonymous and must live within the jurisdiction of a state that has:
- ratified the respective treaty;
- recognized the competence of the treaty body to deal with complaints; and
- not made any reservations that precludes the committee from considering that particular case.

- It is not necessary to have a lawyer prepare your case, though legal advice usually improves the quality of the submissions. Be aware, however, that legal aid is not provided under the procedures. You may also bring a claim on behalf of another person on condition that you obtain his or her written consent. In certain cases, you may bring a case without such consent. For example, where parents bring cases on behalf of young children or guardians on behalf of persons unable to give formal consent.

- In general, there is no formal time limit after the date of the alleged violation for filing a complaint under the relevant treaties. It is usually appropriate, however, to submit your complaint as soon as possible after you have exhausted domestic remedies.

UN treaty body timeline

1. Complainant prepares the ‘complaint’ (also called ‘communication’ or ‘petition’);
2. Complaint is received by the secretary-general of the UN who brings it to the attention of the relevant treaty body;
3. Treaty body registers the complaint;
4. Treaty body examines the complaint and considers:
a. the admissibility of the complaint and (if admissible);
b. the merits of the communication (i.e. whether or not there has been a violation of a treaty article);
5. The State party is required to respond to the complaint;
6. The complainant has an opportunity to reply to the State’s response.
After hearing from both parties (or after having given the State a reasonable time to respond), the treaty body issues its ‘views’ (also called ‘opinions’ or ‘decisions’) to both the complainant and the relevant State. Where the committee finds a violation, the views will request the state to provide redress for the victim. Often this will be in the form of asking the state to change the law so that a similar violation cannot occur in future, and to provide limited compensation to the victim. Decisions of international committees/courts are final – there is no appeals process.

This process often takes 2-3 years.

For more detailed information about rules for making a complaint to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the procedure for the determination of the complaint, a model complaint and other resources, follow the link to the excellent Litigating Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:
Legal Practitioners Dossier released by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) at p.198