Submission: list of issues for Australia’s Convention Against Torture review

The logotype of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
OII Australia has submitted suggested issues for consideration by the UN Committee Against Torture, for its next review of Australia.

A pattern of human rights abuses on infants, children and adolescents with intersex traits persists in Australia, including those that Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, has described as “irreversible sex assignment, involuntary sterilization, involuntary genital normalizing surgery, performed without their informed consent, or that of their parents, ‘in an attempt to fix their sex’, leaving them with permanent, irreversible infertility and causing severe mental suffering.”[1]

In many cases, these abuses occur despite rhetoric by Australian governments that asserts the equality and dignity of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) people, and recognition and valuing of intersex variations;[2] a form of pinkwashing.

OII Australia therefore suggests to the Committee to ask the Government of Australia to clarify:

  • What action is the government taking to implement the recommendations of a 2013 Senate Community Affairs References Committee report on the involuntary or coerced sterilization of intersex people in Australia?
  • How will the government ensure the right of infants, children and adolescents to not undergo experimental, unwanted, irreversible cosmetic interventions to “fix” their sex characteristics, or otherwise assign sex, when their sex characteristics do not fit medical norms for females or males?
  • What measures will the government undertake to ensure independent, community-run counselling services for all intersex children and their parents, so as to inform them of the consequences of unnecessary and non-urgent surgery and other medical treatment to decide on the sex of the child and the possibility of postponing any decision on such treatment or surgery until the persons concerned can decide by themselves?
  • How will the government guarantee that full, free and informed consent by the individuals concerned is ensured in connection with medical and surgical treatments for intersex persons; how will it ensure that non-urgent, irreversible medical interventions are postponed until a child is sufficiently mature to direct decision-making and give full, free and informed consent?
  • An arbitrary and unclear legal distinction between “therapeutic” and “non-therapeutic” medical interventions ensures that decision-making rationales to manage physical health issues are intertwined with non-therapeutic and cosmetic rationales. How will the government ensure that medical interventions necessary for physical health are carefully distinguished from interventions designed to “normalize” intersex bodies?
  • How will the government provide redress to people who have undergone unwanted sterilisations and other medical interventions to “normalize” their sex characteristics?

Report contents

The report contains an introduction, details of the human rights and national policy contexts, details of human rights abuses in multiple States/Territories, and a series of case studies.

More information

Download the full submission (PDF format)

[1] Méndez J. Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, A.HRC.22.53. 2013
[2] Carpenter M. The human rights of intersex people: addressing harmful practices and rhetoric of change. Reproductive Health Matters. July 2016; forthcoming.