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UN body approves first resolution protecting rights of intersex people

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted Thursday to adopt a first-of-its-kind initiative protecting the rights of intersex people.

Twenty-four countries voted in favor of the draft resolution, which calls on states to “enhance efforts to combat discrimination, violence and harmful practices” against individuals born intersex, defined as having sex characteristics that do not fit typical definitions of male or female.

Twenty-three countries abstained from voting, and none voted against the resolution.

Intersex people face significant prejudice tied to their identity, and discrimination and mistreatment often begins early in life, with intersex infants commonly subjected to medical interventions intended to conform their bodies to a gender binary. Experts estimate that up to 1.7 percent of the population is born with intersex traits.

Thursday’s draft resolution expresses “grave concern” about harmful practices faced by intersex people, including “medically unnecessary or deferrable interventions” that are performed “without the full, free and informed consent of the person.”

It also requests that the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights prepare a report “examining in detail discriminatory laws and policies, acts of violence and harmful practices against persons with innate variations in sex characteristics, in all regions of the world” as well as best practice solutions.

“The resolution before us is a testament to the international community’s commitment to addressing and mitigating the challenges faced by intersex individuals, ensuring their rights are respected and protected,” U.S. Ambassador Michèle Taylor said ahead of Thursday’s vote. “It underscores the necessity of a human rights-respecting approach, avoiding language that pathologizes and stigmatizes, and instead advocates for the autonomy, dignity and equality that all persons regardless of their sex characteristics deserve.”

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