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  • Gus Bussmann

Remarks on Conversion Therapy and International Law

Conversion therapy is in the headlines again and it is a reminder that no one should be told that their sexual orientation or gender identity is something that can be fixed or cured. I decided to collate here some important information from an international perspective to reiterate that these practices go against the international law of human rights and should be interpreted as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. 

1)  UN News

Global ban needed on bogus ‘conversion therapy’, argues UN rights expert: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/06/1066652


- 2012, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) noted that conversion therapies not only had no medical justification but also represented a severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons. - 2016, the World Psychiatric Association reportedly found that “no sound scientific evidence that innate sexual orientation can be changed”. - 2020, the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) of health specialists, declared that conversion therapy is a form of deception, false advertising and fraud. - The UN envoy cites a recent global survey that suggests that 4 out of 5 persons subjected to the practice, were younger than 25 at the time and, of those, roughly half were under the age of 18.  - “Conversion therapy” targets a specific group on the exclusive basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, with the targeted aim of interfering in their personal integrity and autonomy. - It contradicts international human rights law, which is guided by the fundamental principles of universality, equality and non-discrimination, making the practice “inherently discriminatory” - Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. 2) United Nations Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity - IESOGI REPORT ON CONVERSION THERAPY https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/SexualOrientation/ConversionTherapyReport.pdf - The degrading nature of many conversion therapy practices, including physical abuse, electro-shock therapy, pseudo-medical procedures, and the use of anti-LGBT epithets and slurs, contribute to an overall dehumanizing environment towards persons with diverse SOGI” - Recommendations: 

  1. Take urgent measures to protect children and young people from practices of “conversion therapy”,

  2. Carry out campaigns to raise awareness among parents, families and communities about the invalidity and ineffectiveness of and the damage caused by practices of “conversion therapy”;

  3. Adopt and facilitate health-care and other services related to the exploration, free development and/or affirmation of sexual orientation and/or gender identity,

  4. Foster dialogue with key stakeholders, including medical and health professional organizations, faith-based organizations, educational institutions and community-based organizations, to raise awareness about the human rights violations connected to practices of “conversion therapy”. 

3) Yogyakarta Principles – Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity (March 2007)  http://www.refworld.org/docid/48244e602.html

- Art 18: no person may be forced to undergo any form of medical or psychological treatment, procedure, testing, or be confined to a medical facility, based on sexual orientation or gender identity’. 4) Pan-American Health Organization:  ‘‘‘Therapies’’ to Change Sexual Orientation Lack Medical Justification and Threaten Health’ (17 May 2012)  http://www2.paho.org/hq/index.php?option1⁄4com_content&view1⁄4article&id1⁄4 6803%3A2012-therapies-change-sexual-orientation-lack-medical-justification-threaten-health&Itemid1⁄41926&

- The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has also condemned conversion therapy as ‘practices known as ‘‘reparative therapy’’ or ‘‘conversion therapy’’ represent a serious threat to the health and well-being—even the lives— of affected people’. 

5)  International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture (CAT)

- Both treaties should be used as overarching principles when analysing specific practices around conversion therapy - especially in cases where methods  incorporate physical pain, such as aversion therapy with electric shocks.  - Nature / Purpose and Severity, on a case-by-case analysis will support an understanding that conversion therapy falls under the definitions of torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  - Article 7 of the ICCPR: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation. States must undertake positive measures to ban methods that induce physical and psychological suffering.      


* Picture from the Calgary Herald: Calgary takes next step toward banning conversion therapy after emotional council committee.   


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