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Czech Transgender Sterilization Law Violates Right to Health

Government Should Remove Surgery Requirements from Law

Participants hold a giant rainbow flag during the Prague Pride Parade where thousands marched through the city centre in support of gay rights, in Czech Republic, August 13, 2016.  © 2016 Reuters

A policy in the Czech Republic forcing transgender people to undergo sterilization surgeries to legally change their gender violates the right to health, according to the European Committee of Social Rights.

Transgender people whose documents don’t reflect their gender identity find that daily life is fraught with potential for violence and humiliation whenever their identity documents are checked or their appearance scrutinized.

Non-governmental groups ILGA-Europe and Transgender Europe argued that the Czech Republic’s requirements for legal gender recognition violated the European Social Charter, a Council of Europe treaty focused on social and economic rights. Earlier this month, the committee that evaluates governments’ compliance with the treaty found the Czech Republic to be in violation of Article 11, on the “right to protection of health.”

The current Czech law means some “transgender persons in the Czech Republic may be forced to accept to undergo a medical sterilization, a serious life-altering medical intervention, with risks of side effects and complications, and which is not medically necessary, in order to have their gender identity recognized,” the committee said.

There are clear standards on how to do better.

Countries around the world are moving toward gender recognition policies based on a person’s self-identification, not the approval of any doctor, judge or other authority. Malta’s 2015 law, based on a case that originated in a case at the European Court of Human Rights, states that transgender people can legally self-declare their own gender without any medical assessments. Denmark and Argentina have also removed medical requirements altogether. 

“State recognition of a person’s gender identity is itself a right recognized by international human rights law,” the social rights committee noted, “and is important for guaranteeing the full enjoyment of all human rights.” This judgement should prompt the Czech government to change its law, and it should resonate with governments across Europe as a call to action.

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