Press Release

IACHR Calls for Making Visible and Combating Discrimination and Violence against Intersex Persons

October 26, 2018

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Washington, D.C. - On Intersex Visibility Day, the IACHR calls on States to end violence and discrimination against intersex persons and to ensure their right to bodily integrity, physical autonomy and self-determination. The Commission notes the invisibility of the issue around intersex people and the violation of their human rights in the region and urges States to create specific laws and policies for the protection of intersex people.

Intersex is a general term used to cover a wide range of natural variations in sexual characteristics that do not seem to fit the binary socially accepted body forms as male or female. According to available information, between 0.05 per cent and 1.7 per cent of the population are born with intersex traits, which may become visible at birth, at puberty or, in the case of some specific variations, are never visible.

Throughout the region, intersex people, from an early age, are subjected to surgeries, hormonal treatments and other medically unnecessary procedures in an attempt to forcefully change their appearance to bring it in line with society's expectations about male and female bodies. Such procedures, carried out without the person's full, free and informed consent, represent serious violations of the right to personal integrity (Report on Violence against LGBTI Persons, p. 300, recommendation 56. a.).

Very negative effects of these procedures have also been reported, many of them irreversible, such as permanent infertility, incontinence, loss of sexual sensitivity, life-long pain and severe psychological suffering, including depression and shame linked to attempts to erase and conceal intersex traits. In most cases, intersex persons do not have access to their own complete medical records, as was reported by the IACHR in its Report on Violence against LGBTI Persons (p. 125, para. 182). Furthermore, as the IACHR has pointed out, in general, intersex people and their families experience deep feelings of shame and fear; a factor that contributes to their intersex status remaining secret, and therefore invisible, increasing discrimination and violence against them, as the IACHR stated in its Report on Violence against LGBTI People (p. 84, para. 106).

The Commission recognizes the importance of actions done by civil society for the visibility of intersex persons and the need to protect their rights. The IACHR also stresses the importance of producing studies and documents that make visible the struggle for the human rights of intersex people, such as the Declaration of the Third International Intersex Forum and, in particular, the Declaration of the First Latin American and Caribbean Conference of Intersex People 2018 adopted in San José, Costa Rica. However, in relation to the recommendations provided by these instruments, few countries have taken effective measures to defend and protect intersex persons from violations and abuses.

Bodily diversity, commonly associated with intersex people, is protected under the rights to personal integrity and non-discrimination. In this regard, the LGBTI Rights Rapporteur, Flávia Piovesan, stresses that "ending such human rights violations requires States to broaden their understanding of bodily diversity, and to foster a culture of respect and social acceptance for all persons whose bodies vary from the male and female binary standards.” She added: "States must adopt measures so that families and intersex persons can develop free from prejudice and discrimination".

The Commission urges States to review existing medical practices and protocols that provide for unnecessary medical interventions in intersex girls and boys, in line with recommendation 56.b. of the Report on Violence against LGBTI People, and to ensure that such procedures take into account the principles of non-discrimination and the best interests of the child, as set out in recommendation 10.f.9. of the report The Right of Boys and Girls to a Family. Alternative care. Ending institutionalization in the Americas. Likewise, in relation to intersex persons who have already been subjected to "normalizing" interventions or surgeries without their authorization and/or knowledge, States should guarantee access to their medical records and investigate, sanction and punish the violations of rights to which they were subjected, as well as adopt measures to provide due reparations and compensation to intersex persons.

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 respect for and to defend 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. 227/188