Caster Semenya files case with European Court of Human Rights

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Caster Semenya (Pic: Shutterstock.com)

Mokgadi Caster Semenya’s ongoing fight for dignity, equality, and the human rights of women in sport took a crucial step forward with the filing of an application to the European Court of Human Rights.

The South African Olympian is asking the court to find that Switzerland failed in its obligations to protect her against the violation of her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights as a result of World Athletics’ continuing discriminatory attempts to restrict the ability of certain women to participate in female athletics competitions.

Semenya’s application continues her challenge to the demeaning and intrusive regulations implemented by World Athletics in 2018 which prohibit some women athletes with naturally higher levels of testosterone from participating in international competitions.

The regulations require these women to undergo humiliating and invasive physical examinations followed by harmful and experimental medical procedures if they wish to compete internationally in women’s events between 400m and one mile, the exact range in which Semenya specialises.

“I hope the European court will put an end to the longstanding human rights violations by World Athletics against women athletes. All we ask is to be allowed to run free, for once and for all, as the strong and fearless women we are and have always been,” said Semenya in a statement issued by her legal team from Norton Rose Fulbright.

On Twitter, Semenya added: “This fight is not just about me, it’s about taking a stand and fighting for dignity, equality and the human rights of women in sport. Thank you to all of those who have stood behind me.”

Last year, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court held that the World Athletics’ regulations violate Semenya’s right to physical integrity (among other rights) but refused to intervene to protect these rights.

Semenya’s legal team will argue that the European Court of Human Rights must act to end these human rights violations, which also affect other women athletes, and ensure that international athletes are afforded access to an effective remedy, to protect against and prevent such human rights violations.

Semenya’s lawsuit was filed on the heels of a December 2020 report by Human Rights Watch documenting the abuses against women athletes, many from the Global South, inflicted by “sex testing” in athletics.

In June 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on World Athletics to revoke its regulations in a report titled Intersection of race and gender discrimination in sport. The World Medical Association has also stated that these regulations violate medical ethics and has called on physicians to refuse to implement them.

“Despite this mounting pressure from the international community, World Athletics remains undaunted in pursuing ns discriminatory policies against Caster and other women athletes,” said Norton Rose Fulbright.

On Tuesday, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Sports, Arts and Culture expressed its support for Semenya at a briefing on South Africa’s preparedness to participate in the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games in July.

“This issue of rules unjustly disadvantages Caster and denies her rights to participation and qualification, and the committee’s view is that those rules are unfair,” said the Chairperson of the committee, Beauty Dlulane.

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