Friday, October 5, 2018


Global Health Justice Partnership Welcomes UN Human Rights Experts’ Letter

The Global Health Justice Partnership of Yale Law School and Yale School of Public Health welcomes the September 21, 2018 letter sent by three UN human rights experts raising serious concerns about the health and human rights implications of recent eligibility regulations for the female classification of athletes with differences of sex development, published by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

If these regulations are put into practice, they would exclude a targeted subset of athletes from global competition, despite the fact that there is no clear scientific evidence supporting that women with naturally occurring higher levels of testosterone are afforded substantial advantage in sports. Moreover, the letter from the experts raised specific concerns that the athletes, who have lived their lives as women are targeted in ways that “reinforce negative stereotypes and stigma that women in the targeted category are not women. . . . By singling out a certain group of athletes and denying them membership in the ‘female’ category, the IAAF puts these women at risk of repercussions far beyond the inability to compete.” While UN experts have raised concerns about these regulations, this statement is the strongest condemnation yet made by any of the human rights mechanisms of the UN.

The experts ask for the regulations to be withdrawn and “express strong concern that the IAAF regulations are not compatible with international human rights norms and standards, including the rights of women with differences of sex development to equality and non-discrimination, to physical and mental health, and to physical and bodily integrity.” We express further concern that there is an absence of evidence that the justification for the regulations are legitimate, to the extent that they may not be reasonable and objective, and that there is no clear and reasonable relationship of proportionality between the aim of the regulations and the proposed measures and their effects.

The Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women sent it in law and in practice.

In this context, the GHJP also notes that Caster Semenya has filed a legal challenge to the regulations with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. GHJP is following the UN’s work on this closely: the UN expert letter cites the research and analysis of Katrina Karkazis, Ph.D., a GHJP Senior Visiting Fellow. Karkazis is a cultural anthropologist with extensive training in science and technology studies, gender studies, and empirical bioethics. Read other work by Karkazis relevant to the challenge to the IAAF regulations.