In a landmark decision for women, the General Assembly, acting without a vote, adopted on 6 October 1999 a 21-article Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and called on all States parties to the Convention to become party to the new instrument as soon as possible.
By ratifying the Optional Protocol, a State recognizes the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women -- the body that monitors States parties' compliance with the Convention -- to receive and consider complaints from individuals or groups within its jurisdiction.
The Protocol contains two procedures: (1) A communications procedure allows individual women, or groups of women, to submit claims of violations of rights protected under the Convention to the Committee. The Protocol establishes that in order for individual communications to be admitted for consideration by the Committee, a number of criteria must be met, including those domestic remedies must have been exhausted. (2) The Protocol also creates an inquiry procedure enabling the Committee to initiate inquiries into situations of grave or systematic violations of women’s rights. In either case, States must be party to the Convention and the Protocol. The Protocol includes an "opt-out clause", allowing States upon ratification or accession to declare that they do not accept the inquiry procedure. Article 17 of the Protocol explicitly provides that no reservations may be entered to its terms.
The Optional Protocol entered into force on 22 December 2000, following the ratification of the tenth State party to the Convention. The entry into force of the Optional Protocol puts it on an equal footing with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention against Torture and other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which all have communications procedures. The inquiry procedure is the equivalent of that under the Convention against Torture.