Posted on 25. February 2013 in Health & Depathologisation

Special Rapporteur on Torture

Gender Reassignment Surgery Requirement equals Torture, says United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture

Slowly, it seems things are speeding up for trans people at the United Nations. The most recent victory is that the yearly report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to the General Assembly (SRT) now unequivocally posits that requiring trans people to change their body, to have to undergo genital surgery in order to get their gender recognized, equals torture.

This year’s report of the SRT focuses on torture in health care. It happens that women who are seen “unfit” for child bearing are involuntary sterilized or refused genetic testing. And the Special Rapporteur now explicitly picks up on existing judgments on interventions in people’s sexual and reproductive rights and health. Several practices and policies are more than a violation of the right to health. They can be considered torture. Where the Committee of the UN Women’s Treaty (CEDAW) already in no uncertain wording condemned sterilization of Roma women, the Special Rapporteur on Torture’s report now very clearly states: “In many countries transgender persons are required to undergo often unwanted sterilization surgeries as a prerequisite to enjoy legal recognition of their preferred gender.” (para. 78)

Two factors weigh in heavily in getting this into the report. On the one hand there is a 16 page contribution to Rapporteur Mendez by Advocates for Informed Choice ( which is an US based organisation for the rights of intersex people. The other one is a submission by trans* activist Micah Grzywnowicz who has worked for the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. Zie submitted a report with testimonies from all over the world arguing that the surgery requirement comes forth from a binary gender perspective that aims at keeping intact the fiction of heterosexuality. The idea that all trans people are heterosexual after transitioning. The mandate writes “because they fail to conform to socially constructed gender expectations.” For a UN body this is strong language. In the conclusions, the Special Rapporteur calls (para 88) on states to “repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments, including forced genital-normalizing surgery, involuntary sterilization, unethical experimentation, medical display, “reparative therapies” or “conversion therapies”, when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned.”