New York, January 14, 2012
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt
c/o Roberta Alenius
SE-103 33Stockholm, Sweden
Dear Prime Minister Reinfeldt,
On January 12, 2012, several Swedish politicians belonging to parties in your coalition government spoke publicly about a coalition agreement not to change the Swedish transgender law. The requirement that people who want to change their legal gender are compelled to be sterilized would remain law. Later that day, Minister Erik Ullenhag issued a statement in which he denied such a coalition agreement. He stated that the government is still studying the matter and as of yet has not reached an agreement to remove the forced sterilization.
Human Rights Watch writes to express our serious concerns about the fact that your government still has not decided to change the transgender law and remove the requirement of sterilization.
Under the current law Swedish transgender people who want to have their preferred gender recognized before the law, need to prove they are unable to procreate (Lagen om faststallelse av konstillhorighet i vissa fall (SFS 1972; 119)).
The Swedish law causes anguish for transgender people who choose not to have the required surgery, which involves an invasive medical procedure, for various reasons, such as out of a wish to one day become parents. Their identification documents do not match their gender identity and gender expression. This leads to frequent public humiliation, vulnerability to discrimination, and great difficulty in finding or holding a job. There are many occasions where people in Sweden need to show their identification documents. Often transgender people are called to explain how it is possible that their official document (with male or female on it) does not match their appearance.
The Swedish transgender law stems from 1972 and is out of step with current international best practice and understandings of Swedish obligations under international human rights law.
In July 2009 Thomas Hammarberg, the commissioner for human rights of the Council of Europe, made the observation about the forced sterilization requirement that in reality the state prescribes medical treatment for legal purposes, “a requirement which clearly runs against principles of human rights and human dignity.” This was followed up in the extensive report on human rights for LGBT people in Europe that the commissioner published this summer. The commissioner there recommends Council of Europe member states to do away with all physical requirements for people who want to change their legal gender.
In March 2010 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe recommended to member states, including Sweden, that requirements, including changes of a physical nature, for legal recognition of a gender reassignment, should be reviewed in order to remove abusive elements. The Committee recommended that member states should take appropriate measures “to guarantee the full recognition of a person’s gender reassignment in all areas of life, in particular by making possible the change of name and gender in official documents in a quick, transparent and accessible way.”
Several European countries like Portugal, the United Kingdom, and Spain have already done away with the requirement of forced sterilization. Unfortunately this is not the case yet in all European countries, a part of the world that usually praises itself highly regarding respecting human rights. The Netherlands is another European country with a law similar to the Swedish one. The Dutch government, a coalition of the conservative Liberal Party and the Christian-Democratic party, publicly acknowledged that its transgender law violates international human rights law and published a law proposal which does away with the forced sterilization requirement.
The Swedish government should follow the example of the group of enlightened countries. In revising the law, Sweden could be guided by the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The Yogyakarta Principles encourage states to consider measures that allow all people to define their own gender identity.
On May 30, 2011, the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare presented its proposal for a revision of the law on legal gender recognition to the Minister of Social Affairs. Among other requirements, the Board recommends that the forced sterilization clause should be taken out and the procedure should be simplified. The proposal will give transgender people residing in Sweden the right to change their legal gender without having to undergo medical or surgical procedures.
Your government should submit a legislative proposal to the Swedish Riksdag along the lines of what the Board has proposed. The continuation of the status quo in this case, would mean the continuation of serious violations of transgender people’s human rights.
I call upon you to immediately abolish the forced sterilization requirement and the medical treatment for legal purposes.
Boris O. Dittrich
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Program
Human Rights Watch
Chair of Committee on Justice
Sveriges riksdag, 100 12 Stockholm