Human Rights Watch released a report this week criticizing the Netherlands for stipulations in the Dutch Civil Code which, the group says, violates the human rights of transgender people.
The 85-page report, “Controlling Bodies, Denying Identities: Human Rights Violations Against Trans People in the Netherlands,” highlights the impact of a 1985 law, article 28 of the civil code, that continues to impact the lives of transgender people today. The requirements were in fact wholly progressive at the time they were enacted, putting the Netherlands at the forefront of equality where its trans citizens were concerned.
Article 28 of the Dutch civil code requires that transgender people take hormone therapy and undergo surgery to alter their bodies to comport with the gender they wish to present as. Such a course of action is neither medically necessary nor always desired for those dealing with gender identity issues or a formal diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder. The law also says trans citizens must be permanently and irreversibly sterilized before they can have their gender legally recognized on official documents.
While many countries did at the time adopt similar laws in dealing with trans people who wanted to change how they are identified on official records, many European countries like Portugal and the United Kingdom have since abandoned the surgical and hormonal treatment requirement. Forced sterilization continues to be a cause for concern in many countries however.
“The Dutch law causes anguish for trans people who have not had the required surgery,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Their documents do not match their deeply felt gender identity. This leads to frequent public humiliation, vulnerability to discrimination, and great difficulty finding or holding a job.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed 28 transgender people for the report, as well as medical professionals, legal experts, government officials, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, and academics.
One transgender person interviewed by Human Rights Watch said about the law: “People are left dangling in between two worlds for far longer than is necessary. It is needlessly traumatizing for people who are already very vulnerable.”
Another person summed up the objections to article 28 this way: “The state should stay out of our underwear.”
Trans citizen’s rights to personal freedom and what is known as “physical integrity” are protected by the Dutch constitution, and by several international human rights instruments including the European Convention on Human Rights.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the Netherlands to revise the law immediately, and also to safeguard the right of trans citizens to self-identify — a right that at the moment is subject to a judge’s interpretation of current law. The group also cites that the Netherlands has frequently said that it will change the law, most recently in March of this year, but no action has been forthcoming.
“Trans people are tired of waiting and hearing empty promises,” Dittrich is quoted as saying. ” They want legal action now. Before any new law goes into effect, a lot of time will have passed. Meanwhile trans people have to cope with daily humiliation, discrimination, and frustration.”