Julia Ehrt
Julia Ehrt, Executive Director of Transgender Europe

On 6 April 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that requiring sterilization of individuals seeking a change in their legal gender recognition violates human rights.

Twenty-two countries in Europe currently still require sterilization to access gender identity recognition, however, this decision mandates that these countries amend their laws to reflect this positive ruling.

While forced sterilization has been deemed a human rights violation, the EU Court upheld that medical examinations and a mental health diagnosis were in line with the European Convention of Human Rights.

Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International, commented on the decision: “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 As more countries review laws for gender identity recognition it is essential that they forgo outdated policies and follow legislation from places like Malta or Argentina which prioritize self-determination. The decision from the European Court raises the bar globally.” Stern said. 

In a press release Julia Ehrt, Executive Director of Transgender Europe, a human rights organization that has been at the forefront of fighting these laws, also gave insight into the ruling, saying, “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 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 said, “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 sterilized. This is without a doubt a fundamental right that must be upheld in every context.”

European countries are moving in the direction of more progressive legislation on this issue.

Since October 2016, France no longer forces sterilization on trans citizens to access gender identity recognition. Sweden abandoned the requirement of sterilization in 2013. The Swedish Government has recently announced that anyone who was forced to undergo sterilization 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 Executive Director of Sweden’s largest LGBTQ organizations RFSL, comments, “Money can never fully compensate the suffering of those that were forced to undergo sterilization, 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.