European Court puts an end to forced sterilisation for trans people

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On Thursday the European Court of Human Rights ruled that requiring sterilisation of individuals seeking a change in their legal gender recognition violates human rights.

Twenty two countries in Europe currently still require sterilisation to access gender identity recognition.

But Thursday’s rulings will require all to change their laws and policies regarding the forced sterilisation of trans people seeking to have their gender identity legally recognised.

Despite the positive element to the ruling the court stopped short of ruling that medical examinations and mental health diagnoses are in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International, commented on the decision, saying: “Today the world moved in the right direction for for trans rights everywhere. Forcing unnecessary medical interventions to access basic human rights like legal recognition of a person’s gender is barbaric. As more countries review laws for gender identity recognition it is essential that they forgo outdated policies and follow legislation from places like Malta or Argentina which prioritise self-determination. The decision from the European Court raises the bar globally.”

Julia Ehrt, Executive Director of Transgender Europe, a human rights organisation that has been at the forefront of of fighting these laws, also commented on the ruling.

She said: “Today is a victory for trans people and human rights in Europe. This decision ends the dark chapter of state-induced sterilisation in Europe. The 22 states in which a sterilisation is still mandatory will have to swiftly end this practice. We are looking forward to supporting those and other countries in reforming their national legislation.”

This ruling results from three cases against France submitted in 2012 and 2013 which leveraged Article 8 of the European Convention of Human rights, the “Right to respect for private and family rights,” Article 3 of the Convention the “Prohibition of torture,” as well as Article 14, “Prohibition of discrimination.”

In 2015 the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, considered an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, submitted a written intervention to the court on this case, positing that states should have the right to address issues as they pertain to transgender individuals based on national contexts, and that the court should not consider the Yogyakarta Principles, a set of international principles relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, when considering the three cases.

Stern commented on the intervention of ADF International, and added: “Alliance Defending Freedom makes a mockery of the word freedom when they put religious dogma over the rights of individuals to be legally recognized. These cases are about every trans person’s right to self-determination and the freedom of every trans person to not be forcibly sterilised. This is without a doubt a fundamental right that must be upheld in every context.”

Since October 2016, France no longer force sterilisation on trans citizens to access gender identity recognition.

Sweden abandoned the requirement of sterilisation in 2013. The Swedish Government has recently announced that anyone who was forced to undergo sterilisation to access legal gender recognition between 1972-2013 is eligible for compensation from the state in the amount of 225,000 SEK ($25,000).

Maria Sjödin, Deputy Executive Director of OutRight and former Execuive Director of Swedens largest LGBTQ organizations RFSL, comments: “Money can never fully compensate the suffering of those that were forced to undergo sterilisation, but it is an admittance from the state that the requirement was a violation of people’s rights.”
Only four countries in Europe, Norway, Ireland, Malta, and Denmark currently have gender identity recognition policies that are based on the principle of self-determination without any medical requirements.

Earlier this year, LGBT activist in Ukraine were pleased to see revisions to the rules which allow trans people to legally change their gender.

The gender recognition process for trans people could get a lot simpler in Ukraine under proposed new rules.

Rights group the Human Rights Watch made a complaint to the Special Rapporteur on torture on abuses of the old system.

The new rules, which will build on or change Order 60 of the Ministry of Health in Ukraine still fall short of other countries, notes the Human Rights Watch, but are a welcome step forward for transgender people there.

Previously trans people were made to undergo psychiatric observation and sterilisation in order to get divorced and get access to gender reassignment surgery.

The steps were all necessary in order for trans people to legally change their gender on official documents.

Those who did not want to undergo the process were subjected to a life of uncertainty with ID which does not match up with their gender identity.

The new rules would do away with the sterilisation element to the process, and the psychiatric evaluations would no longer be fully necessary.

They would also not be made to appear before the State Evaluation Commission, but they would still be made to divorce, and undergo outpatient psychiatric evaluations.

Human rights groups like Human Rights Watch still urge countries like Ukraine to do away with the “archaic” system, and put into place something which recognises the needs of trans people.