Press Release

On International Intersex Awareness Day, the IACHR Calls on States to Protect the Right to Health of Intersex Persons

October 26, 2020

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Washington, D.C. – – On October 26, the international Intersex Awareness Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on States in the Americas to adopt protocols for integral assistance that protect the right to health and the personal integrity of intersex persons in an atmosphere that is free from discrimination and violence.

The IACHR notes that the term “intersex” was developed to describe all situations where an individual’s body does not seem to fit the binary bodily “standard” that prevails in society. This can be visible from birth childhood, adolescence or, in some cases, never.

The Commission notes that, according to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, and other Inter-American legal instruments, the rights of intersex persons must be respected and protected by States in the region, based on the principle of equality and non-discrimination. In compliance with their international obligations, States must therefore adopt protocols that take into consideration the fact that intersex persons are particularly vulnerable to violence in medical contexts and to discrimination based on prejudice in social contexts that reject body diversity.

The IACHR has received information about how intersex persons are subjected to irreversible surgery—particularly during childhood and adolescence—without their informed consent, in order to make aesthetic changes. In many cases, these surgical procedures result in involuntary sterilization, irreversible infertility, and a reduction or loss of sexual sensitivity. The Commission has said, in its report Violence Against LGBTI Persons, that forced and involuntary sterilization of intersex persons is a serious human rights violation. Intersex persons are also subjected to excessive genital examinations, photographs, and displays that are invasive and violate their right to privacy. According to recent research, all this leads to a high percentage of intersex persons being diagnosed with mental health problems, notably depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In this context, the Commission stresses that States must adopt comprehensive healthcare protocols that address the specific needs of intersex persons and prioritize their mental health. These protocols must take a human rights perspective and ensure that healthcare services are provided without any form of discrimination, violence, or ill-treatment. All unnecessary medical procedures on intersex children without the free, prior, and informed consent of the relevant individuals must therefore be banned. The IACHR further stresses its recommendation to provide training on body diversity to medical staff. The Commission also calls for the adoption of strategies that ensure effective communication concerning the consequences of surgery and other medical procedures and the dissemination of appropriate information among intersex persons and their families, with a perspective that contemplates cultural and linguistic appropriateness.

The IACHR further stresses the right of intersex to access the truth, including access to their full medical records and history, as well as efforts to investigate and punish—and provide reparations for—discrimination and violence in keeping with international human rights standards. Finally, the IACHR stresses its disposition to provide technical assistance to States in the Americas to help them design healthcare protocols with a human rights perspective for 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. 259/20