Gekleurde lijnen die door elkaar lopen, wisselend van elkaar afgaan en naar elkaar toegaan. Het is een symbolisering van meningen die soms gelijklopen en soms niet.

Image: iStockPhoto Viktoria Kurpas

The United Nations

Many governments in Europe have received recommendations to better protect the rights of intersex people in the member states of the United Nations. To find the recommendations that are made by the United Nations, please visit www.intersexrights.org.

www.intersexrights.org intends to give the most complete overview possible of the recommendations of treaty committees of the United Nations, resolutions of political bodies, declarations of intersex organisations et cetera.

The information is intended for intersex people who want to learn from the work that has already been done and scientists who are conducting research into the social aspects of intersex variations. The website is also useful for policymakers who want to integrate mention of intersex variations into regional, national, and local policy.

The United Nations as the defender of human rights

The United Nations (UN) has 193 member states that cooperate, but retain their own decision-making powers. This autonomous decision-making power is limited by treaties.1Wikipedia contains a list of treaties that fall under the UN or a UN agency, or that are managed by the UN. It is then up to the UN to see that the member state in question actually complies with the treaty. To this end, the UN has set up a committee for each treaty that functions more or less like a court:

  • first, discussions are held with representatives of the member state, the national human rights institution, and the organizations that have submitted their own reports; and
  • the Committee then determines whether or not the member state is implementing the Convention correctly.2See the drop-down box below for a more detailed description of this process.

Ratified treaties are part of “international law’. National laws may not contradict them. If they do, the rules of treaties often take precedence. Therefore, governments sometimes have to adjust their national laws after the ratification of a treaty. Member states that have ratified these treaties regularly give account of how they comply with the treaty in their own countries. They do so before the committee appointed by the UN for the treaty concerned.

Below are examples of some of the recommendations that the committees that oversee the implementation of these treaties have made in recent years regarding intersex variations.

The core human rights treaties are:

  • International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
  • Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment  (CAT)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
  • International Convention on Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMRW)
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED)

Not all European countries have signed and ratified all these treaties.

Many people think that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is also a treaty, but it is not. However, many of the human rights treaties have been based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The review process  is broadly the same every time:

  • The UN committee that monitors the implementation of the treaty calls on the member state to write a report. In doing so, the committee can propose topics and ask questions.
  • The government of the member state writes a report on subjects and situations related to the subject of the treaty and pays special attention to the subjects and questions raised by the committee.
  • Non-governmental organizations submit NGO reports. These are reports in which they criticize the implementation of the treaty in question.3This can be done at any moment during the process, but for the sake of brevity, we will only mention it here.
  • During a session in Geneva, the committee discusses, in a number of sessions, the views expressed with the member state, the national human rights institution 4Known as National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). and the organizations that have submitted an NGO report. Questions are put to all parties, but critical questions are asked especially in the discussion with the member state. Because this involves a great deal of specialist knowledge, it is not unusual for a member state to be represented by ten to twenty people.
  • Questions which cannot be answered directly by the member state must be answered in writing within 48 hours.
  • After a relatively short time, the treaty committee makes recommendations for the member state.
  • In the next round, a few years later, it will be examined whether and how the recommendations have been followed.
Website giving an overview of all UN recommendations

UN CRC observations Tunesia & Luxembourg

News from June 24, 2021. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child presented the concluding observations for the Republic of Tunisia and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The Committee made clear recommendations about intersex children. The Committee recommends Luxembourg and Tunisia ensure that intersex children are not subjected to unnecessary medical or surgical treatment, in line with children’s rights to bodily integrity, autonomy and self-determination, and to provide the children and their families with counselling and support. Tunisia received additional recommendations to provide social, medical and psychological services, where necessary, as well as a recommendation to pay reparations to families with intersex children. They are also to conduct awareness-raising activities to combat the stigmatization of intersex children as part of LGBTI. For Luxembourg, the Committee further recommended strengthening efforts to ensure the child’s best interest is the primary consideration for intersex children. These recommendations result from a report written by Tunisian intersex activist Damino with NNID, and reports written by the Swiss intersex organization StopIGM. Over the past year, the pandemic severely impacted the work of the committees. Before Covid, a country that had ratified a UN human rights treaty would travel to Geneva every few years to meet with a UN committee to discuss the implementation of that treaty. Covid delayed many of these meetings. Several committees have recently started meeting with countries online. Luxembourg and Tunisia were the first online meetings for the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

CAT 

The first recommendations from a UN treaty body about intersex were made to the government of the Federal Republic of Germany and came from the Committee Against Torture that oversees the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (also known as CAT). The committee has regularly made recommendations for legal protection of intersex people since then.

On 12 December 2011 the committee made the following recommendations in their concluding observations to Germany:

Concluding Observations

Full text of the 2011 Concluding Observations from CAT to Germany

CEDAW

The implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is overseen by the CEDAW committee. Since 2014 the committee have regularly given recommendations to States to improve the protection of intersex people.

For example, below are the recommendations made in March 2020 to the Republic of Bulgaria.

Concluding observations  

Health

  1. The Committee notes with concern:

(d) Reports of largely irreversible medical surgery performed on intersex women.

  1. Recalling its general recommendation No. 24 (1999) on women and health and target 3.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals, with the aim of ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, as well as its previous recommendation (CEDAW/C/BGR/CO/4–7, para. 36), the Committee recommends that the State party:

 (e) Develop and implement a rights-based health-care protocol for intersex women and ensure that intersex women are not subjected to surgery or   treatment without their free, informed and prior consent.

Women and girls facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination

  1. The Committee is concerned that women and girls with disabilities, lesbian, bisexual and transgender women and intersex persons continue to face intersecting forms of discrimination and gender-based violence.
  2. The Committee recommends that the State party urgently implement targeted measures to achieve substantive equality for women and girls in all stages of life who face intersecting forms of discrimination, such as women and girls with disabilities, lesbian, bisexual and transgender women and intersex persons.
Full text of the 2020 Concluding Observations from CEDAW to Bulgaria