Conversion therapy as a form of torture

January 22, 2021

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In the 2021 New Year Report of the International Forensic Expert Group (IFEG), the group describes its activities and achievements in the past year.  IFEG is an international body of independent forensic specialists who are recognized as global leaders in the medico-legal investigation of torture, ill-treatment, and unlawful killing. One of them is our secretary, Adriaan van Es.

Conversion therapy is one of the issues raised in the annual report. Conversion therapies are harmful practices that aim to change, ‘cure’ or ‘repair’ someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These practices are taking place worldwide in communities where being gay or transgender is frowned upon or considered a mental illness. Being subjected to conversion therapy causes severe physical and psychological suffering.  It is also considered a form of torture.

IFEG published an Expert Statement on Conversion Therapy in early 2020, which has since been cited in the media many times. The publication and widespread distribution of the statement has contributed to steps to ban this practice in several states, including Australia and Israel.

Mental health-care providers

In May 2020,  the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, issued a report to the Human Rights Council on conversion therapy.  According to him, not only members of faith-based organizations and traditional healers are among the perpetrators, but also private and public mental health-care providers.

As stated in the report: “It is confirmed in an abundance of the literature that mental health professionals continue to carry out such practices, for example in China, the Republic of Korea, the United States and countries in Eastern Europe. In China, a randomized survey found that roughly 50 per cent of ‘conversion’ agents were public hospitals. Roughly one third of
some 1,000 mental health professionals interviewed in a study carried out in China said that being gay was a form of mental illness and that they regarded practices of ‘conversion therapy’ as effective.”

No medical justification

In 2012, the Pan American Health Organization already noted that these therapies had no medical justification and represented a severe threat to the health and human rights of affected persons. And in 2016, the World Psychiatric Association found that “there is no sound scientific evidence that innate sexual orientation can be changed.”

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