More than 50 Countries Ask United Nations to Protect Intersex Rights

76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City
More than 50 countries issued a statement demanding that the UN protect intersex rights.
John Minchillo/Pool via REUTERS

More than 50 countries issued a statement in October urging the United Nations Human Rights Council to protect and investigate abuses targeting intersex individuals.

“We call on all member states to take measures to combat violence and discrimination against intersex persons, develop policies in close consultations with those affected, ensure accountability, reverse discriminatory laws and provide victims with access to remedy,” advocates in the statement, which also called for the Human Rights Council to hold states accountable for medically unnecessary procedures. “We also call on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and on the Special Procedures of this Council to continue addressing and to scale up action against violence and discrimination based on sex characteristics within their mandates and in their work.”

The joint statement coincided with the UN Human Rights Council’s 48th session in Geneva, Switzerland, and highlights the global human rights violations facing the intersex community. The total number of countries signing on to the letter increased from last year, when 37 countries delivered a similar statement to the Human Rights Council demanding that they condemn “harmful practices, violence, and discrimination based on sex characteristics.”

In the letter, activists further called for the Human Rights Council to help “protect the autonomy” of intersex children and adults, who are often forced to endure medically unnecessary procedures and hormone treatments without their consent. For years, the intersex community has spoken out against the harmful effects of these interventions, which rarely align with the child’s gender identity as they get older.

“Intersex persons continue to face discrimination in many areas of life, particularly in education, healthcare, employment, social security, sports, places of detention, and access to public services,” the countries wrote in the statement. “In order to address these challenges, there is an urgent need to combat discrimination on the basis of sex characteristics and address its root causes, such as gender stereotypes, spread of inaccurate information, stigma, taboo, and pathologization. For these reasons, there is also a clear need to raise awareness about the human rights of intersex persons.”

Among the nations signing the letter included Albania, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Ireland, Mexico, Namibia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Two years ago, the UN’s Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) published a background note addressing some of the human rights violations affecting the intersex community. The report followed OHCHR’s Intersex Expert meeting, a global event to raise awareness about intersex rights in 2015.

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