Press Release

IACHR Urges States to End Violence and Harmful Practices against Intersex Persons

November 22, 2017

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) celebrates bodily diversity and calls on States to promote policies that protect intersex persons and prevent all types of violence and discrimination to which they are subject.

The IACHR has received information indicating that from an early age, intersex persons are subjected to surgeries, hormonal treatment, and other invasive and medically unnecessary procedures without their consent, in an attempt to forcibly change their appearance to make it conform to society’s binary stereotypes about female and male bodies. When such procedures are performed without the full, free, and informed consent of the affected person, they constituted violations of fundamental human rights.

The IACHR has also received information about the negative complications of these procedures, including chronic pain, permanent trauma, genital sensitivity, and sterilization, among others. Those affected can also suffer grave psychological harm, including depression and shame linked to attempts to erase or hide intersex features. In some cases, intersex persons do not even have access to their own medical records or original birth certificates.

The family members of intersex children are often not informed about alternatives to surgery or about the possible negative consequences of the procedures, which are performed routinely even if there is no need or medical emergency.

The Commission recognizes the work of human rights defenders and the great effort they have made to raise the visibility of the intersex experience and describe the human rights violations that particularly affect this group. However, the IACHR also observes that, because of society’s lack of awareness about the issue, intersex persons and their families generally have profound feelings of shame and fear, which often contributes to keeping the issue invisible and secret.

Based on these considerations, the IACHR urges the States to urgently prohibit surgeries and medically unnecessary procedures on intersex children. The Commission further reiterates that States should respect the autonomy of all intersex persons and all dimensions of their right to health, their right to physical and psychological integrity, and their right to live free from all forms of violence and discrimination, and should prevent all inhuman and degrading treatment. States should structure themselves and their services to be able to provide intersex persons of all ages with complete information about their health so that they are free to decide about their bodies and life plans. States should also act with due diligence to provide training to officials in health care, the justice system, and other relevant sectors about the realities faced by intersex persons and the need for full respect of all their human rights.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the respect for and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 189/17