European Rights Court calls for striking down sterilization requirement

The European Court of Human Rights has issued a ruling in the case of A.P., Garçon and Nicot v. France "that there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of E. Garçon and S. Nicot, on account of the obligation to establish the irreversible nature of the change in their appearance."

The case concerned three transgender persons of French nationality who wished to change the entries concerning their sex and their forenames on their birth certificates, and who were not allowed to so do by the courts in the respondent State. The applicants submitted, among other points, that the authorities had infringed their right to respect for their private life by making recognition of sexual identity conditional on undergoing an operation involving a high probability of sterility.

The Court held, in particular, that making recognition of the sexual identity of transgender persons conditional on undergoing an operation or sterilising treatment to which they did not wish to submit amounted to making the full exercise of one’s right to respect for private life conditional on relinquishing full exercise of the right to respect for one’s physical integrity.

A string of Western European countries have recently outlawed mandatory sterilization, as awareness has grown about transgender rights. After France, the most recent country to abolish the practice was Norway in 2014, followed by Sweden, Germany, and Austria. Last month, Sweden offered compensation to transgender people who were forced to undergo mandatory sterilization to legally change their gender.

Many of the sterilization laws in these countries date back to the 1970s, when being transgender was largely considered a problem and sterilization a test of a person’s seriousness about wanting to “fix” it. Sterilization also ensured that a transgender person legally registered as a man didn’t give birth to a child.

The following European countries currently still require sterilization: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.

The European court’s ruling has limitations. While it may influence laws in other countries, it is only legally binding in France. And while the court ruled against sterilization, it did not strike down requirements that transgender people undergo medical and psychological examinations before changing their gender, which human rights advocates argue are also cruel and unnecessary.

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