Human Rights Commission intervenes in Caster Semenya court challenge
Caster Semenya is challenging regulations that require her to lower her natural testosterone levels through hormone treatment in order to be eligible to compete as a woman.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is set to have a say in the court battle between Caster Semenya and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after it was called by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as an intervener.
The commission said on Thursday that it welcomed the decision by the court to grant it leave to intervene as a third party in the matter.
This follows Semenya’s appeal early this year to the human rights court after her first two court actions, in the CAS and the Swiss Federal Supreme Court respectively.
This is the first time that the commission is involved in human rights litigation in an international forum, and also the first known occasion that the ECHR has granted leave to intervene to an African human rights institution.
The commission will assert its neutrality and confine its submission to the discriminatory affect of the difference in sex development regulations on women athletes from the global South.
The commission sought leave to intervene in the matter so as to clarify the adverse affects of World Athletics’ Differences of Sex Development (DSD) regulations on women from the global South.
In particular, the SAHRC said it wishes to make submissions to the international court, “which demonstrate the discriminatory effect of the regulations on the intersecting grounds of race and gender, and which further show how the impugned regulations breach Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
The commission has been granted leave to make written submissions to the court by October 12.
“Though the court has issued questions to the parties in the matter, the commission will assert its neutrality and confine its submission to the discriminatory affect of the difference in sex development regulations on women athletes from the global South. The commission will accordingly not purport to comment on the merits of the matter,” said the commission in a statement.
Semenya, a two-time Olympian, won the gold medal in the women’s 800m at the Olympic Games in London in 2012 and in Rio in 2016.
She lodged an application with the ECHR in February this year, in which she challenges regulations issued by World Athletics that require her to lower her natural testosterone levels through hormone treatment to be eligible to compete as a woman in international sporting events. The challenge is grounded in various rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The commission said it is being represented in the matter by a formidable legal team, comprising of five counsel, Jeremy Gauntlett SC QC, Emma Mockford, Jennifer MacLeod, Zahra al-Rikabi from Brick Court Chambers in London, and Frank Pelser from Cape Town, who are all acting pro bono.
“The commission has furthermore solicited the expert advice of an ad hoc committee comprising of Prof Sandra Fredman (Oxford) and Dr Meghan Campbell (Birmingham), representing the Oxford Human Rights Hub, and joined by Ms Alex Fitzgerald, previously a staff member of the commission,” it said.
“The commission extends its sincere gratitude to the excellent legal team, expert committee and its own staff for their tireless work in reaching this important milestone in the commission’s endeavour to promote equality and help eliminate discrimination in its various guises.”