Human Rights Commission to fight for Caster Semenya on global stage

Caster Semenya

Caster Semenya

Published Oct 20, 2021


Johannesburg – The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has filed its submission as third-party intervener before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the matter of Semenya v Switzerland.

Caster Semenya is a South African middle-distance runner and winner of two Olympic gold medals and three World Championships in the women’s 800 metres.

The commission said this was the first time it had involved itself in human rights litigation in an international forum.

“Ms Semenya lodged an application with the ECtHR on 18 February 2021, in terms of which she challenges regulations issued by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which requires her to lower her natural testosterone levels through hormone treatment in order to be eligible to compete as a woman in international sporting events,” the commission stated.

The commission further said Semenya’s challenge was grounded in various rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The SAHRC said it had successfully sought leave to intervene in the matter so it could elucidate the adverse impacts of the IAAF’s Differences of Sex Development (DSD) regulations on women from the Global South.

The commission said its submission did not purport to comment on the merits of the matter, and instead aimed to demonstrate the discriminatory effect of the regulations on the intersecting grounds of race and gender.

“In particular, the commission, as an independent intervenor (comparable to a friend of the Court), seeks to illustrate how the impugned regulations breach Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and/or Article 3 (prohibition of torture) of the ECHR,” it added.

The SAHRC said it sought to demonstrate that intersectional discrimination had a unique and synergistic discriminatory effect on women from the Global South.

“The matter raises complex issues regarding the relation of dignity to the right to equality and non-discrimination as well as to other ECHR rights; the appropriate approach in respect of intersectional discrimination; and how the justificatory analysis should be framed in instances of intersectional discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, gender identity and expression,” said the commission.

Furthermore the commission said it sought to achieve its aims with reference to the rich normative jurisprudence of the South African Constitutional Court.

“In the light of the complexity of the human rights issues raised, the commission has requested to make oral submissions in the event that the ECtHR grants a hearing in this case,” the SAHRC said.

The Star