The Scottish Human Rights Commission has criticised an intervention by the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women and girls on reforms of Scotland's gender recognition laws. 

Last month, in a highly critical letter, Reem Alsalem raised concerns that the changes - which scrap the need for trans people to require a medical diagnosis to obtain a gender recognition certificate - could  “potentially open the door for violent males who identify as men to abuse the process of acquiring a gender certificate and the rights that are associated with it”.

“This presents potential risks to the safety of women in all their diversity,” she added.

Ms Alsalem also called on ministers to “complete a thorough assessment of all foreseeable consequences.”

Speaking to Holyrood’s Equality and Human Rights Committee, Ian Duddy, the chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said he was “not convinced that she has presented new evidence that has not already been debated at length within parliament.” 

He said the rapporteur had contradicted a letter sent in 2021, “where she appeared to support self-id with a number of other UN Special Rapporteurs.” 

Mr Duddy told the committee: “I am concerned as well about a sort of underlying narrative that's been developed that trans people are sexual predators. I worry about that because they are a marginalised and vulnerable group.

"I recognise that this Bill is contested. It's up to parliamentarians now to reach their conclusions, but our initial view is that we stand by the evidence that we gave in June and recognise that there is a range of opinions, including within the UN.”

Tory MSP Pam Gosal asked if he agreed with Ms Alsalem that the final vote on the Bill should be postponed.

“We can't just dismiss somebody from the United Nations saying something now. And I know that you're saying that they said something else before. But it's fairly clear this is said now, so shouldn't we be looking at that?”

Mr Duddy replied: “I think some of the concerns that the Special Rapporteur has mentioned in her recent letter have been looked at at length by this committee. 

“So our understanding of the equalities law in the UK means that it would still be possible to exclude trans women from women's safe spaces if there's a justifiable reason to do so. 

“And we think that the Bill is appropriate in terms of striking that balance and simplifying a process that already exists in terms of issuing gender recognition certificates.”

Mr Duddy told the committee that the commission believed “women's rights and trans rights can go hand in hand.” 

“Human rights are indivisible,” he said. “We don't think of a hierarchy of rights.”

“We recognise the comments that the Special Rapporteur has made, we do think that they have been addressed several times within this committee. The debate has been going on now for a number of years. I can't speculate for the reasons why she wrote in at this time, or who she contacted to get her evidence.”

Green MSP Maggie Chapman asked the commission about the international experience of self-id and if there has been the conflict that Ms Alsalem’s letter mentioned. 

Mr Ruddy said: “There are a number of states who already have self-id. We haven't seen the concrete harms that have been hinted at throughout this debate.

"And therefore, you know, we still stand by our position that we gave in June because looking also at the evidence from countries that have introduced self-id, I think some of those concerns that were expressed have not materialised. 

“I think I should also emphasise that in our evidence in June, we did say that, we did recommend that the legislation be reviewed in two years time to see how it works in practice. So I think we would still stand by that recommendation.”

Eilidh Dickson, the commission’s policy officer, said international comparisons were difficult to make as each country would have its own equality legislation. 

“Some countries do have exemptions, like the Equality Act, that allows service providers to exclude a person on the basis of their gender reassignment status, regardless of their sex, legal, biological, presentational, whatever," she said.

“So comparing countries is challenging, but we haven't seen any evidence that this has been a systemic problem. And as I say, the exceptions in the Equality Act exist for a reason.”

The evidence session came as 29 individuals and organisations wrote to Ms Alsalme to welcome her intervention.

The letter also warned that no evidence of negative effects from legislation did not mean there were no negative effects. 

“We believe that ‘absence of evidence is evidence of absence’ arguments come from adopting a hierarchy of rights in which women’s rights based on sex are demoted. 

“It also places an impossible burden of proof on almost wholly voluntary campaigners who find themselves opposing state machinery and state-funded actors. It should be rejected.

“We are not surprised that you have reported receiving many messages from women in many countries in Europe and beyond thanking you for raising these issues and expressing concerns about similar planned legislations in their countries. 

“We expect you will receive many from women in countries that have introduced laws in this area with inadequate attention being paid to their impact on women and girls’ dignity, privacy, and safety.”

The letter also said women working in front-line services in Scotland had “felt constrained from contradicting the position taken by organisations at national level.”

Signatories to the letter include For Women Scotland, MurrayBlackburnMackenzie, the Scottish Feminist Network and Woman’s Place UK.

It has also been backed by journalist Julie Bindel, former prison governor Rhona Hotchkiss, Karen Ingala Smith, the author of ‘Defending Women’s Spaces’ and Sophie Walker, the Founding Leader of the Women’s Equality Party.

The legislation aims to reform the process by which trans people can obtain a gender recognition certificate.

Currently, they need a medical diagnosis and a two-year period of living as that gender.

However, the new Bill removes the need for medical assessment and allows someone to obtain a gender recognition certificate after six months.

It would also reduce the minimum age for application from 18 to 16.

It's now expected that the final stage of the Bill will take in the run up to Christmas, with MSPs debating amendments on December 20, and then voting the next day.