Joint statement by 33+ countries at the UN Human Rights Council

United Nations flag in blue
Austria has made a statement on behalf of countries from every region of the world, calling on the Human Rights Council to investigate and address human rights violations and abuses against intersex persons.

Advocates from around the world worked with colleagues in ILGA World in Geneva to support this work.

The joint statement

Watch delivery of the statement at 15:50:

Video link

The text of the joint statement reads as follows:

45th Human Rights Council
General Debate Item 8
Follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of 32 countries.

The Vienna Declaration states that human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. The VDPA makes clear that “every person is born equal and has the same rights to life and welfare, education and work, living independently and active participation in all aspects of society”. However, intersex people – that is, individuals who are born with sex characteristics that do not fit the typical definition of male or female bodies – continue to face serious and widespread human rights violations and abuses.

In many countries around the world, intersex people are subjected to medically unnecessary surgeries, hormonal treatments and other procedures in an attempt to change their appearance to be in line with gendered societal expectations of male and female bodies without their full and informed consent.

Intersex persons are often denied full access to their medical records.

Throughout their lives, people with diverse sex characteristics face discrimination in all areas of life, such as access to education, health, employment and sports, among others, as well as restrictions on the exercise of legal capacity and in access to remedies and justice.

The root causes of these human rights violations and abuses include harmful stereotypes, spread of inaccurate information, stigma, taboos, and pathologization.

It is high time this Council address human rights and abuses violations against intersex people and their root causes.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the inequalities already faced by intersex people.

We call on governments as a matter of urgency, to protect the autonomy of intersex adults and children and their rights to health, and to physical and mental integrity so that they live free from violence and harmful practices.

Governments should investigate human rights violations and abuses against intersex people, ensure accountability, reverse discriminatory laws and provide victims with access to remedy.

We encourage Governments to work in collaboration with intersex-led organizations in raising awareness and understanding about the human rights of intersex people.

Signatories

Signatory countries at time of delivery of the statement were: Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Panama, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and Uruguay. Please note that Costa Rica has signed the statement after delivery.

Media statement

A joint media statement in response has been published by ILGA World, Intersex Human Rights Australia, GATE, OII Europe, SIPD Uganda, Intersex South Africa, Intersex Asia and OII Chinese, including:

“This is an historic step forward for the global intersex community”, says Tony Briffa, Chair of the Intersex Committee at ILGA World and a Co-Executive Director of Intersex Human Rights Australia. “For the first time States have taken the lead, recognised the historic injustice that people with diverse sex characteristics are still facing every day, and are pushing their own governments and others to work with civil society to raise awareness.”

Civil society has indeed worked for years to make sure that intersex stories could be heard. Their voices highlighted how being denied their bodily autonomy has had a ripple effect on people’s health outcomes, education and employment opportunities, as well as their possibility to compete in sports – often without even being able to access remedies and justice.

Slowly, the world has begun to acknowledge these realities and lives. In 2019, the UN passed a resolution calling for an end to discrimination of women and girls in sports – including women born with variations of sex characteristics. This represented the first UN resolution on the rights of intersex persons. Earlier in 2020, then, a children’s hospital in Chicago became the first in the United States to publicly apologise for the harm it caused to intersex people, and announced it would stop medically unnecessary “normalising” surgeries. More and more voices have spoken up against regulations that keep excluding top female athletes from the Global South from international sport competitions.

Civil society has also spoken today at the UN Human Rights Council: 33 organisations welcomed the recent initiative by States, and encouraged them to “take further action in protecting intersex persons’ autonomy, rights to health, to physical and mental integrity, to live free from violence and harmful practices and to be free from torture and ill-treatment“.

“Our bodies were born whole, and only we should have had the right to decide what happened to them”, said Mauro Cabral Grinspan of GATE. “Violations against our bodies that only seek to make us fit the binary model of how women and men should look like are still the norm rather than the exception. We hope that today’s words at the United Nations will push States to finally take action and restore justice towards us”.

Read the full joint media statement.