[Indepth] Intersex rights & UNHRC Resolution: Explained

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The United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted a groundbreaking resolution to protect the rights of intersex individuals, marking a historic advancement in human rights. Spearheaded by Finland, South Africa, Chile, and Australia, the resolution aims to combat discrimination and harmful practices, with 24 countries voting in favor and none against. This initiative signals a growing international resolve to address the rights violations experienced by intersex persons.

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This topic of “[Indepth] Intersex rights & UNHRC Resolution: Explained” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.


  • Definition of intersex and the medical and social understanding of intersex variations
    • Intersex individuals are born with sex characteristics that do not align with typical binary notions of male or female bodies, encompassing a range of natural bodily variations.
    • These characteristics can include differences in chromosomes, genitals, hormones, or internal reproductive organs.
    • The term intersex is an umbrella term used to describe these variations, and intersex people may have any gender identity and sexual orientation.
    • Medical terminology has evolved, with some preferring terms like “differences of sex development” (DSD) or “variations of sex characteristics,” while others reject these as pathologizing.
  • Historical context of intersex rights and the medical practices that have been challenged by human rights advocates
    • Historically, intersex individuals have been subjected to medical and surgical interventions aimed at aligning their physical appearance with societal gender norms, often without informed consent and sometimes with harmful consequences.
    • These practices have included genital surgeries, hormone treatments, and other procedures that can lead to infertility, pain, loss of sexual sensation, and psychological trauma.
    • The medicalization of intersex began in the 19th century, with surgeries performed to make intersex individuals’ genitals conform to a binary gender system, often under the guise of promoting heterosexuality and preventing homosexuality.
  • Previous international efforts and declarations related to intersex rights
    • International human rights bodies have increasingly recognized the rights of intersex individuals, with various declarations and statements calling for an end to discrimination, harmful medical practices, and violations of bodily autonomy.
    • Notable declarations include the Malta Declaration and the Darlington Statement, which advocate for the rights of intersex individuals, including the right to bodily integrity and self-determination.
    • The Yogyakarta Principles and statements from the World Health Organization and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have also highlighted the need to protect intersex people from human rights abuses.

UNHRC Resolution on Intersex Rights

  • Details of the resolution “Combating discrimination, violence and harmful practices against intersex persons” adopted by the UN Human Rights Council
    • The resolution focuses on addressing and mitigating discrimination, violence, and harmful practices directed at intersex individuals.
    • It was adopted with a vote tally of 24 in favor, none against, and 23 abstentions, marking a significant step towards recognizing and protecting the rights of intersex persons on a global scale.
  • The role of Finland, South Africa, Chile, and Australia in spearheading the resolution
    • These four nations led the initiative, demonstrating their commitment to advancing human rights for intersex individuals by bringing this resolution to the forefront of the UN Human Rights Council’s agenda.
  • The content of the resolution, including its aims to raise awareness, combat discrimination, and end harmful medical practices
    • The resolution aims to increase global awareness of the challenges faced by intersex people, including discrimination, violence, and the prevalence of medically unnecessary surgeries.
    • It calls on member states to prohibit medically unnecessary procedures on intersex children and to ensure that human rights violations against intersex individuals are investigated and perpetrators prosecuted.
    • The resolution emphasizes the importance of consulting and involving intersex people and organizations in the development of research, legislation, and policies affecting their rights.
  • The global report mandated by the resolution to assess human rights violations against intersex people
    • A comprehensive report is to be prepared by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, detailing discriminatory laws, policies, acts of violence, and harmful practices against intersex persons across all regions of the world.
    • This report is expected to be presented at the Human Rights Council’s 60th session, likely in 2025, and will include best practices and legal protections to safeguard the rights of intersex individuals.

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Global Reaction and Impact

  • Responses from various countries and human rights organizations to the resolution
    • Countries like Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Japan, and the United States voted in favor, showcasing broad international support.
    • Human Rights Watch described the resolution as “groundbreaking,” highlighting its potential to address rights violations against intersex people.
    • InterACT Advocates emphasized the resolution’s role in confirming discrimination and violence against intersex people as global human rights concerns.
    • The Centre for Human Rights commended the UNHRC for adopting the resolution, noting its importance in recognizing the discrimination, violence, and harm faced by intersex persons.
  • The significance of the resolution for the intersex community and human rights advocacy
    • Marked as a “landmark advancement in human rights” by U.S. Ambassador Michèle Taylor, the resolution is hailed for its groundbreaking nature in protecting intersex rights.
    • The resolution brings increased awareness and recognition to the issues faced by intersex individuals, potentially leading to better protection and advocacy efforts.
    • Advocacy groups and intersex individuals see this as a “big victory” for intersex rights, emphasizing the human aspect and the need for continued efforts towards equality and dignity.
  • Analysis of the abstentions and opposition to the resolution, including the reasons behind them
    • Countries like Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates abstained, reflecting a mix of cultural, legal, and medical concerns.
    • Qatar, speaking for the Arab Group, argued that the Human Rights Council was not the right platform for discussing intersex issues due to their complexity and medical aspects. They proposed changing the term “intersex persons” to “persons with disorders in sex development” for a more “scientific and medically appropriate description”.
    • Bangladesh and Malaysia expressed concerns that the term “intersex” was “unknown in the national legal systems and social contexts” of many member states, suggesting that the resolution’s definition of intersex persons was vague and arbitrary.
    • China emphasized the need for the resolution to respect traditions in various countries, indicating a preference for a more culturally sensitive approach.

Intersex Rights in India

  • The current status of intersex rights and recognition in India
    • Intersex individuals in India face significant challenges in terms of recognition and rights, with societal and familial stigmatization being prevalent.
    • The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights recommended a ban on medically unnecessary sex-selective surgeries on intersex children, marking a positive development in intersex rights.
    • The Madras High Court judgment in Tamil Nadu recognized the right to consent and bodily integrity of intersex infants and children, declaring a prohibition on sex-selective surgeries on intersex children in the state.
  • Cultural and legal challenges faced by intersex individuals in India
    • Intersex individuals often face bullying, stigmatization, and exclusion from social and policy-making processes.
    • The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, while aimed at protecting transgender persons, has been criticized for not adequately addressing the specific needs of intersex individuals, conflating intersex issues with transgender issues, and failing to protect intersex children from invasive medical interventions.
    • Cultural perceptions of intersex individuals as deviant or abnormal contribute to their marginalization and discrimination.
  • Potential impact of the UNHRC resolution on intersex rights in India
    • The UNHRC resolution on intersex rights could raise awareness and encourage the Indian government to take further steps towards protecting the rights of intersex individuals.
    • It may lead to increased international scrutiny and support for intersex rights in India, potentially influencing future legal and policy reforms.
  • Steps taken by the Indian government and civil society organizations to address intersex rights
    • The appointment of Gopi Shankar, an intersex activist, to the National Council of Transgender Persons was seen as a step towards ensuring representation of the intersex community in decision-making processes, although it has not yet led to significant legal or policy outcomes for the community.
    • Civil society organizations and human rights bodies have been advocating for the rights of intersex individuals, including challenging harmful medical practices and seeking legal recognition and protection.
    • Judicial interventions, such as the Madras High Court judgment, have played a crucial role in advancing intersex rights, although the implementation of these judgments and the enactment of supportive laws remain challenges.


The UNHRC resolution on intersex rights represents a pivotal moment in the global recognition and protection of intersex individuals. It has the potential to catalyze change, encouraging nations like India to confront cultural and legal challenges, and to take definitive steps towards safeguarding the rights and dignity of intersex persons. This resolution underscores the importance of international cooperation and advocacy in advancing human rights for all, regardless of sex characteristics.

Practice Question

Analyze the significance of the UNHRC resolution on intersex rights for global human rights advocacy and its potential impact on countries like India. Discuss the challenges in its implementation. (250 words)

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