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Promoting the Civil Rights of Children Born With Variations of Sex Anatomy

Advocates for Informed Choice
February 6th, 2013

Dear Friends,

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture (SRT) has just issued a statement calling for an end to genital-normalizing surgeries without the consent of the affected person. Specifically, recommendation 88 of the Rapporteur’s report on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in health care settings reads:

“The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments, including forced genital-normalizing surgery, involuntary sterilization, unethical experimentation, [or] medical display … when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned. He also calls upon them to outlaw forced or coerced sterilization in all circumstances and provide special protection to individuals belonging to marginalized groups.”

This is a very significant development. The SRT is an influential voice in setting international human rights norms, and governments around the world will look to this report in creating their own laws and policies. AIC’s testimony before the SRT in early December was critical in ensuring that human rights violations affecting children with intersex conditions or DSD were included in this report.

It is clear from the report that the recommendations include genital-normalizing surgeries and other abuses imposed on children with intersex conditions or DSD. In the body of the report, the SRT recognizes:

“Children who are born with atypical sex characteristics are often subject to 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.” The report also states, “These procedures [genital-normalizing surgeries] are rarely medically necessary, can cause scarring, loss of sexual sensation, pain, incontinence and lifelong depression and have also been criticized as being unscientific, potentially harmful and contributing to stigma.”

Why a report on torture?

The SRT is responsible for investigating and reporting to the United Nations on questions related to torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The SRT has issued a special report on practices in health care that “cross a threshold of mistreatment” that brings them into the realm of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

“By illustrating some of these abusive practices in health-care settings, the report sheds light on often undetected forms of abusive practices that occur under the auspices of health-care policies, and emphasizes how certain treatments run afoul of the prohibition on torture and ill-treatment. It identifies the scope of State’s obligations to regulate, control and supervise health-care practices with a view to preventing mistreatment under any pretext.”
In other words, the SRT is recognizing that serious human rights abuses can and do happen even in medical settings – sometimes even as accepted medical practice. We often recognize such abuses in looking at historical practices. The SRT’s report acknowledges that these problems do not exist only in the past, and classifies some of the medical treatment of intersex people with other examples of torture and ill-treatment that occur in health care settings around the world today.

AIC’s contribution

The SRT’s office contacted Advocates for Informed Choice to request our testimony just weeks before the hearings. We quickly produced a 16-page report citing the medical, legal, and human rights literature on the subject, and our Executive Director, Anne Tamar-Mattis, flew to Washington, DC, to participate in two days of hearings. In March Anne will go to Geneva, Switzerland, to participate in further UN-related events surrounding the report and to educate human rights officials from around the globe about abuses affecting the intersex/DSD community.

We are deeply grateful to have such a strong community standing with AIC as we move onto the world stage. We thank all of our supporters whose contributions made this swift action possible. And thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for children with intersex conditions and DSD.

With pride and gratitude,


P.S. You can read the entire report at http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A.HRC.22.53_English.pdf.

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