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United Nations addresses human rights of intersex persons in groundbreaking resolution

Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted its first-ever resolution specifically addressing discrimination, violence, and harmful practices against persons with innate variations in sex characteristics.

Photo by Katie Rainbow from Pexels.com

In a move said to protect the human rights of intersex people, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted its first-ever resolution specifically addressing discrimination, violence, and harmful practices against persons with innate variations in sex characteristics.

The resolution – which was forwarded by Finland, South Africa, Chile and Australia – encourages States to “work to realize the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” for intersex people.

It also requests the Office of the High Commissioner to prepare a report examining “discriminatory laws and policies, acts of violence and harmful practices, in all regions of the world,” and looking at “best practices including legal protection and remedies” against persons with innate variations in sex characteristics. This report will be discussed at the Human Rights Council in September 2025.

The resolution was supported by 24 States, while 23 abstained from voting; fortunately, none voted against it.

In a statement collectively released by 35 civil society organizations* following the adoption of HRC’s resolution, it was stressed that this could “raise awareness” on intersex issues, which States “can no longer ignore, and will have to act upon.”

“Intersex people exist in every part of the world. And yet, they continue to face pervasive human rights violations everywhere – including forced and coercive medical interventions, infanticide, denial of legal recognition and registration at birth, and discrimination in accessing health, education, and sports, amongst others. The importance of the UN addressing this situation to better the lives of intersex people worldwide cannot be overstated.”

*The civil society organizations are: Ação Pela Identidade – API; African Intersex Movement; Beyond the Boundary-Knowing and Concerns Intersex (Hong Kong); Campaign for Change (CfC)  (Nepal); Fundacja Interakcja (Poland); ILGA World; Intersex Asia; Intersex Community of Zimbabwe (ICoZ); Intersex Human Rights Australia; Intersex Human Rights India; Intersex Kenya Education and Advocacy (IKEAA); Intersex Movement Ghana / Key Watch Ghana; Intersex Nigeria; Intersex Persons’ Implementation Coordination Committee (IPICC); Intersex Persons’ Society of Kenya (IPSK); Intersex Philippines; Intersex Thailand; Intersex Society of Zambia (ISSZ); Intersex South Africa; Intersex Uganda; Intersex Venezuela; Intersexions; Intersexo Brasil; ISIO Intersex Human Rights Finland; Iranti; Justicia Intersex (Argentina); Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR); Mulabi / Latin American Space for Sexuality and Rights; OII Chinese; OII Europe; Omoro Alliance for Empowerment Foundation (ALEFA); Outright International; Support Initiative for People with Congenital Disorders (SIPD) Uganda; Tanzania Voice of Humanity; and Voice of Togetherness Uganda.

TIMELINE
How the United Nations has addressed the human rights of intersex people

  • 2015: the OHCHR convenes the first Intersex Expert meeting
  • 2016: a group of UN human rights experts and mechanisms joins forces with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights and the Council of Europe, urging to end violence and harmful medical practices on intersex children and adults
  • 2019: OHCHR publishes a background note focusing on human rights violations against intersex people
  • 2019: The Human Rights Council adopts a resolution on discrimination in sports, mentioning the “rights of women with differences of sex development”
  • September 2020: A cross-regional group of 35 UN Member States delivers the first joint statement on the human rights of intersex persons
  • July 2021: OHCHR presents a report on discrimination in sports, featuring specific recommendations on intersex issues. Meanwhile, the African Group delivers a joint statement stating that “Segregating women on the basis of intersex variations has the same effect as apartheid – one of the international crimes against humanity”
  • September 2021: A cross-regional group of 53 UN Member States delivers a second joint statement on the human rights of intersex persons. From the civil society, 76 organisations across the world encourage the Human Rights Council to do more: “Unless immediate action is taken, severe human rights violations against intersex people will prevail and continue.”
  • September 2022: With the support of various stakeholders, Finland co-organises an event on the right to health of intersex persons.
  • September 2023:  Finland, Chile, South Africa, and Australia lead a group of more than 56 States from all regions of the world at the Human Rights Council, calling to “increase efforts to combat violence, harmful practices and discrimination on the basis of sex characteristics”.
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