GQUAL Conference: Changing the Picture of International Justice

From October 3-5, the GQUAL Conference: Changing the Picture of International Justice will take place in The Hague, Netherlands, organized by GQUAL and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) along with the support of States, Foundations, and Partner organizations.

Women are under-represented across almost all international tribunals and monitoring bodies that play key roles in developing international law, human rights, international relations, and cooperation. For example, in 2017, only 18.1% of judges sitting on international tribunals are women. Within the United Nations Treaty Bodies, several Committees have less than 30% of female representation, among them the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR, 27%), the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED, 10%) and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD, 6%). In response to this critical dearth of women serving across international justice, GQUAL was launched in 2015 at the UN Headquarters as a global campaign to achieve gender parity within these entities.

On its second anniversary of the campaign, the GQUAL Conference will convene, at the Hague, Vice-Presidents, high level representatives of States and members of international tribunals and organizations, international law and gender experts, academics, advocates and activists from all over the world to build on the work done over the past two years. The goal of the conference is to approve an Action Plan that will build upon the campaign’s three strategies outlined in the GQUAL Declaration. The conference will include a series of workshops where participants will discuss the multiple angles that influence the representation of women and possible avenues for improvement, at the national and international level.

Check out the event splashpage to RSVP and see the full program of the conference, the organizations and States supporting the initiative, and a preview of participating speakers at .  The Opening Ceremony will take place at The Peace Palace on October 3rd and will be live streamed starting at 5:00 PM (Netherlands) here: .

For more information, please contact Alex McAnarney at


Update on Gender Parity at the Human Rights Council

On November 8, I published Taking-stock: The Human Rights Council and Gender Parity in Special Procedures after 10 years in this blog. The Article was also cross-posted at the Human Rights Brief. To complement my article, the Human Rights Brief recently interviewed Ambassador Marta Maurás Pérez from Chile. Ambassador Maurás is a pioneer for gender parity in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). As the only woman in the 2015 HRC Consultative Group, she was a leader in the Consultative Group’s creation of the 2015 Gender Parity Guidelines. She continues to work to increase the number of women holding special procedures positions. The interview with Ambassador Maurás discusses her dedicated work on closing the gender gap within the UN and around the world. In addition, she discusses the challenges ahead to ensure that gender parity becomes mandatory in the work of the HRC. The full interview is posted at the Human Rights Brief. I hope her words encourage us to continue our advocacy to promote gender parity at the HRC and other international tribunals and organs.

Taking-stock: The Human Rights Council and Gender Parity in Special Procedures after 10 years

The Human Rights Council (HRC) completed its 33rd session on September 30, 2016. After 10 years of functioning, this organ seems to be doing a better job of appointing women for special procedures than other human rights bodies as a result of the application of gender parity guidelines adopted at the level of the Consultative Group (CG). After the latest appointments, and according to a report from the Universal Rights Group, the gender balance of mandate-holders has slightly increased from 41%-44%. However, more needs to be done to sustain the gains and ensure that gender parity becomes a mandatory standard and not a mere guideline in the selection of special procedures mandate holders.

In June 2015, the HRC’s Consultative Group (CG) adopted the “Guidelines on Gender Parity” (Guidelines) to address the gender disparity in the special mandate holder selection process. The Guidelines recommend the establishment of gender quotas for the CG in the selection of individuals for short-list interviews and short-list for final decision by the President and HRC. Specifically, Guideline Recommendation 2(a) – relating to short-list interviews – advises the CG “to list no more than three persons of the same sex out of the five candidates ranked for Working Groups and for individual mandates . . . .” Guideline Recommendation 2(b) – relating to short-list for final decision – recommends “their collective three-candidate short-list for the President and Council’s final decision ensures no more than two out of three are of the same sex.” When establishing the Guidelines, the CG took into account existing General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions and stated that given “the present situation of grave gender unbalance, the members of the Consultative Group should consider ways to achieve gender parity for appointments to be made at the 29th and 30th sessions of the Human Rights Council, in order to move towards the 2004 General Assembly target of fifty-fifty among all mandate holders and redress the reduced number of women candidates and women appointed in the last exercises, while minding geographical balance.”

The reports of the CG from the 29th, 30th, and 31st sessions of the HRC each make explicit mention of the Guidelines in the section of the report that outlines the selection process for special mandate holders.  In those sessions, the CG considered applications for 11 special procedure mandate holder positions, plus two positions to the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People (EMRIP), a subsidiary body of the HRC. Of the short-list interviews, interview selection for four of those 11 positions did not meet the Guidelines’ “no more than three persons of the same sex out of the five candidates ranked” standard. However, three out of those four positions favored women over men in the selection process. Similarly, short-list for final decisions for four of the 11 positions did not meet the Guidelines’ “no more than two out of three” of the same sex standard, but again three of those four favored women over men. Therefore, although the CG did not strictly adhere to the Guidelines during those sessions, there was still a strong indication that the CG followed-through with the Guidelines and their stated purpose based on the two main factors addressed here. First, in almost of all the cases of non-compliance at the short-list interviews and short-list final decisions women were favored over men. Second, nearly all non-compliance favored the appointment of female applicants. The 29th, 30th, and 31st sessions produced about 45% female appointees to special procedure mandates, but two more women were proposed by the CG and elected by the HRC to the EMRIP. Overall, these sessions produced 56% female appointees.

Interestingly, the reports of the CG for the 32nd and 33rd sessions do not make any reference to gender or the Guidelines. They only state that the CG paid full consideration to several paragraphs of the Annex to the HRC’s Resolution 5/1, including para. 40 which provide, inter alia, that “due consideration should be given to gender balance” in the selection and appointment of mandate-holders. Notwithstanding, the final outcome of these sessions shows that the CG respected the parameters of the Guidelines and even contributed to slightly increased women’s representation among special procedure mandate-holders. The CG reviewed applications for 10 mandate holder positions. As to the short-list for interviews, the CG did not meet the gender standard in six cases, whereas only in two of the 10 positions it failed to comply with the “no more than two out of three” of the same sex standard. These numbers show that even if the CG had more difficulties with respecting gender balance when creating the short-list for interviews – mostly due to a significantly low number of women applicants for certain mandates- with few exceptions it was able to maintain the standard when proposing the short list of candidates for election. Overall, 6 women out of 10 positions were appointed by the HRC.

Since the adoption of the Guidelines, the CG put forward noticeably increased percentages of women for both interviews and the short-list of final nominations to be considered by the HRC. Before that, women represented about 37% percent of all special mandate holders. The recent increase in female applicants at each step of the selection process and the increased percentage of female appointees indicate the success of the Guidelines in achieving the stated goal of gender parity across all mandate holders. In spite of these gains, it is not clear if this policy will be sustained in the future, particularly taking into account that the current CG has not expressly extended the application of the Guidelines adopted by its predecessor and a new CG will start its functions in April 2017.  Experience shows that advances in gender parity do not preclude the possibility of regression. Thus, to sustain existing gains the HRC should take additional steps to solidify the Guidelines as formal requirements. Specifically, these guidelines should be included in a resolution of the HRC complementing Resolution 5/1 and incorporating gender parity as official protocol for the special mandate holder selection process.  Only that will ensure that women’s representation in the special procedures mandates are sustained in the future, regardless of the composition of the CG and the gender sensitivities of the HCR and its President.

Article 8 of the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW): A Stepping Stone in Ensuring Gender Parity in International Organs and Tribunals

Article 8 of CEDAW requires state parties to the treaty to “take all appropriate measures to ensure to women, on equal terms with men and without any discrimination, the opportunity to represent their Governments at the international level and to participate in the work of international organizations.” Given the plain text of the provision and its subsequent interpretation by the Convention’s enforcement body, the CEDAW Committee, it is clear that state parties have a duty to ensure gender equality in the access to positions in international tribunals and bodies that play key roles in developing international law and human rights. As of today, 189 states have ratified CEDAW, thereby making the obligations arising out of Article 8 an almost universal requirement. The goal of GQUAL is to work with states, international bodies, and civil society organizations towards the effective implementation of this duty.

The obligation to ensure equal opportunity “to participate in the work of international organizations” under Article 8 is two-fold. At the international level, states must exert influence when the rules regulating processes of appointment to international positions are adopted to guarantee that they conform to the gender equality requirements of that provision (Sarah Wittkop, Article 8, in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, A Commentary,at 224). At the domestic level, states must establish transparent selection processes to ensure that women benefit on an equal basis from the opportunity to work at the international level, particularly when such opportunity requires states to nominate candidates to be appointed to those positions (Id.). Even though the obligation to ensure gender equality at the international level is of a positive nature, at the domestic level states have an immediate duty to set up the necessary conditions to guarantee women de facto equality to access those opportunities. On the other hand, the duty to achieve in practice gender equality is considered to be of gradual implementation.

When Article 8 speaks of “international organizations,” it is understood that this notion encompasses not only international bodies such as the United Nations, but also regional organizations, including the Organization of American States, the Council of Europe, and the African Union to mention a few (Id.). Moreover, all organs within those organizations are covered by this obligation, including “courts, subsidiary bodies, funds and programmes, specialized agencies, and treaty bodies.”(Id.) Consequently, states have a duty to ensure gender equality in access to positions at both levels and to all international organs.

Additionally, Article 8 requires that state parties to the Convention “take all appropriate measures” to ensure gender equality in their representations to international organizations. According to the CEDAW Committee, the appropriate measures include the creation of objective criteria and processes for the appointment and promotion of women to relevant positions (CEDAW, General Recommendation No. 23 (1997) paras. 38, 50) and the adoption of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating substantive equality for women,(Id., para. 43) as provided by Article 4 of the Convention. The Committee has read this article to require state parties to adopt temporary measures such as special educational opportunities, recruitment policies, and quotas in order to expedite gender de facto equality in areas where women are chronically underrepresented (CEDAW, General Recommendation No. 25 (2004) para. 22). Such temporary special measures are necessary to bypass entrenched cultural and structural issues that make it impossible for women to compete on an even playing field with men (Id., para. 14).

The CEDAW Committee’s interpretation of the Convention through its Concluding Observations on state parties and its General Recommendations is vital to understand the practical implications and obligations of the Convention. Even if Article 8 has not been extensively interpreted, the CEDAW Committee has repeatedly obligated states to take whatever measures necessary to ensure de facto gender equality in international representation. Specifically, the Committee has repeatedly recommended that state parties establish temporary statutory quota systems to achieve substantive equality in both the diplomatic service and states’ representations to international organizations. (Concluding Observations, the Netherlands, 2010, para. 33). Finally, given the precise nature of the obligation to take all appropriate measures, this duty is of immediate application and may be subject to enforcement at the domestic and international jurisdiction (Sarah Wittkop, Article 8, supra, at 231).

Continue reading