By: Elias Tissandier-Nasom
On the 15th of March 2023, UN delegates met in Geneva to discuss the draft resolution on birth registration and the right to recognition. The debate discussed the first amendments, suggestions, and oppositions of states to the content and wording of the draft resolution. While all provisions were discussed, some themes sparked more controversy, particularly the inclusion of the mention of intersex children, LGBTQIA+ persons, and indigenous people. Furthermore, some disagreements arose regarding the use of the term ‘gender’ and the invitation for states to endorse the Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development.
The Australian representative was the first to bring up the issue of intersex status with regards to the existing mention of barriers to birth registration and recognition created by gender identity, but which currently only note gender minorities and women in a broad manner. This mention was directly followed by a disturbing comment (“WHAT?!”) pronounced through one of the delegates microphone which had inadvertently been left on. The inclusion in the resolution of intersex status as a particularly sensitive group was supported by Canada, Paraguay, and Lichtenstein. The representative of the European Union stated that the suggestion was interesting and would be taken into consideration on their part as well. The mention of intersex status in a resolution touching directly upon the importance of birth registration and recognition for the protection of human rights for all is fundamental. Intersex persons face grave violations of human rights worldwide, from lack of legal recognition to harmful practices amounting to torture in the form of intersex genital mutilation. This mention, however, was not well received by other representatives. Notably, the representative of the Russian Federation stated that the inclusion of intersex rights would cross the ‘red line’. This statement was supported by Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Namibia, Indonesia, and Qatar. Iran also objected to the mention of intersex status, arguing that there is no international “consensus on LGBT rights and the case of intersex children”. Such language, in a consultation at the United Nations, is harmful, and denotes the fervent will of many states to pursue the violation of the rights of intersex persons, and to continue ignoring their right to legal recognition as human beings deserving of equal rights and protection. States who objected to the mention of intersex status similarly objected to adding specific mentions of LGBTQIA+ persons, and sex workers, as well as children born from rape, which had been mentioned by Canada, and the inclusion of women and girl victims of human trafficking, as suggested by the United States.
The draft resolution highlights the importance for governments to ensure they work closely with civil society, and the representative for Canada brought up the necessity to textually refer to indigenous people and indigenous organizations. Moreover, the inclusion of the specific group of indigenous people was mentioned as a necessary measure to ensure they are not left out of policies aiming to facilitate birth registration. This inclusion was supported by Brazil, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Panama, and Australia. Objections to this were put through by the representative for Iran, stating that the inclusion of local and indigenous language in birth registration systems would complexify procedures and have a negative effect upon the effective deliverance of birth certificates.
Tensions rose in the room regarding the use of the term ‘gender’ in the document, as well as Canada’s suggestion to include a mention of gender sensitive approaches to birth registration and recognition. States such as the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Namibia, Nigeria, and Iraq largely opposed a gender sensitive approach and requested a change of the term ‘gender’ to ‘sex’ in the document. The representative of the Russian Federation went as far as saying that the separation between sex and gender sounded ‘weird’, in an attempt to prove her point on the necessity of removing the term ‘gender’. When the pen-holder suggested that both terms could be included in the text in order to provide as much protection as possible, the Russian delegate went on to try to explain that this would mean having to “register the sex of a baby when he is born as a boy or a girl and then some other marker of a pretended social gender corresponding to gender roles on their birth certificate”, exposing a clear misunderstanding of now widely known concepts of sociology, psychology, and science regarding the concept of gender. Following this, the pen-holder reminded the audience that a 2019 UNICEF report clearly showed that there was no difference in the prevalence of registration of birth of children of all gender identities, but that the underlying gender discrimination could affect access of children to recognition, and that this can even depend on the status of their parent – as unwed/unmarried mothers, for instance, face extra challenges in registering their children. The pressing objections to the use of the term ‘gender’ aligns with the position of those protesting states in diminishing the human rights of gender minorities, including women and girls and LGBTQIA+ persons.
Finally, the Russian Federation, supported by Egypt, stated that they would not support the resolution’s paragraph inviting states to endorse the Principle on Identification of Sustainable Development. The representative highlighted that this document was not the product of an inter-governmental discussion and thus, should not be imposed on states that have not had a say in its redaction. To this, the representative of Australia reminded the room that the paragraph had very gentle language as it only “invites states and other actors to consider endorsing” the Principles. Additionally, an identical paragraph was present in the previous version of the resolution which had been voted upon and signed in 2020.
Altogether, the informal consultation on the draft resolution on birth registration and the right to recognition was fruitful, as many suggestions and objections were filed by member states. However, it is deplorable to see some states’ current backslide on the protection of human rights active in the work of the United Nations. Moreover, it is necessary to mention that, for a resolution that will effectively apply to most, if not all, states on the international scale, only a handful of states sent representatives to discuss this issue. We note for instance that India, Bangladesh, and Nepal did not speak during the meeting, despite the grave human rights situation linked to the very low numbers of birth registrations in those states.