Council of Europe Strasbourg. Photo Ellen Wuibaux.

Council of Europe Strasbourg. Photo Ellen Wuibaux

Issue Paper Human rights and Intersex People

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

In 2015 Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks1Muižnieks was Commissioner for Human Rights from 2012 to 2018. published eight recommendations on intersex in the issue paper Human Rights and Intersex People (2015).

The Commissioner’s recommendations

  1. Member states should end medically unnecessary “normalising” treatment of intersex persons, including irreversible genital surgery and sterilisation, when it is enforced or administered without the free and fully informed consent of the person concerned. Sex assignment treatment should be available to intersex individuals at an age when they can express their free and fully informed consent. Intersex persons’ right not to undergo sex assignment treatment must be respected.
  2. Intersex persons and their families should be offered interdisciplinary counselling and support, including peer support. Intersex persons’ access to medical
    records should be ensured.
  3. National and international medical classifications which pathologise variations in sex characteristics should be reviewed with a view to eliminating obstacles to the effective enjoyment, by intersex persons, of human rights, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health.
  4. Member states should facilitate the recognition of intersex individuals before the law through the expeditious provision of birth certificates, civil registration documents, identity papers, passports and other official personal documentation while respecting intersex persons’ right to self-determination. Flexible procedures should be observed in assigning and reassigning sex/gender in official documents while also providing for the possibility of not choosing a specified male or female gender marker. Member states should consider the proportionality of requiring gender markers in official documents.
  5. National equal treatment and hate crime legislation should be reviewed to ensure that it protects intersex people. Sex characteristics should be included as a specific ground in equal treatment and hate crime legislation or, at least, the ground of sex/gender should be authoritatively interpreted to include sex characteristics as prohibited grounds of discrimination.
  6. National human rights structures such as ombudspersons, equality bodies, human rights commissions and children’s ombudspersons should be active in their outreach towards intersex people, including children. They should be clearly mandated to work on issues related to intersex people and to provide victim-support services to them. There is a need to facilitate intersex persons’ access to justice.
  7. Member states should carry out research into the situation and human rights protection needs of intersex people in different settings. There is an urgent need to improve public awareness and professional training about the problems encountered by intersex persons. Intersex people and organisations representing them should be enabled to participate actively in research concerning them and in the development of measures improving their enjoyment of human rights.
  8. The human rights violations intersex people have suffered in the past should be investigated, publicly acknowledged and remedied. Ethical and professional standards, legal safeguards and judicial control should be reinforced to ensure future human rights compliance.
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The Commissioner’s recommendations are published on pages 9 and 10 of the issue paper Human Rights and intersex people.  Silvan Agius, Member of the Bureau of the European Committee for Social Cohesion, Human Dignity and Equality (CDDECS) and former Policy Director at the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) is the author of the publication. The opinions expressed in the issue paper are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Council of Europe.