Equality Now Letter to Amnesty International

Salil Shetty
Secretary General
Amnesty International
By email: salil.shetty@amnesty.org

Steven W. Hawkins
Executive Director
Amnesty International USA
By email: SHawkins@aiusa.org

Amnesty International Board of Directors

Dear Mr. Shetty, Mr. Hawkins, and the Amnesty International Board of Directors

29 July 2015

We write to you in regard to Amnesty International’s “Draft Policy on Sex Work” (the “Draft Policy”), circulated in advance of the International Council Meeting to be held in Dublin, Ireland between 7-11 August 2015, which proposes the decriminalization of all aspects of the sex trade, including decriminalization of pimps, brothel keepers and buyers.

Equality Now is an international human rights organization working to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the globe. Sex trafficking is one of Equality Now’s four program areas. Based on our years of experience working with survivors of the sex trade, we see the clear links between prostitution and sex trafficking and the incompatibility of the commercial sex trade with gender equality. We see curbing (as opposed to facilitating) the commercial sex trade as being essential to promoting gender equality and protecting the rights of women.

Equality Now shares many of the aspirations laid out in the Draft Policy, including that those sold for sex should not be criminalized and their human rights protected. We particularly agree with the Draft Policy’s analysis that “[w]omen face entrenched gender discrimination and structural inequality in most societies and bear a disproportionate burden of poverty….” and “….also make up the majority of sex workers globally.” However, the Draft Policy fails to take this analysis to the next level and ignores international law on women’s rights and on transnational organized crime in its recommendation to decriminalize the sex industry.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”) and the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (“Palermo Protocol”) which supplements the Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, are relevant here:

 CEDAW, often referred to as the Women’s Rights Bill, calls on states parties to suppress “all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of the prostitution of women” (Article 6). The CEDAW Committee, comprised of global experts on women’s human rights, has weighed in on exploitation of women that is endemic in the commercial sex trade. In its General Recommendation 19 on violence against women, the Committee stated that sex trafficking and “new forms of sexual exploitation, such as sex tourism . . . are incompatible with the equal enjoyment of rights by women


. . . they put women at special risk of violence and abuse” and that “the propagation of pornography and the depiction and other commercial exploitation of women as sexual objects, rather than individuals, … contributes to gender-based violence.” (Paras. 14 and 12).

  •   The commercial sex trade is inextricably linked to trafficking. The Palermo Protocol defines “trafficking in persons” to include the recruitment, transfer and harbouring of another through force, fraud or coercion for exploitation, and states that ‘[e]xploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation.’ It specifies that the consent of a victim is irrelevant if any of the above means are used. It also requires states parties to enact policies to “discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking.” The 1949 Convention on the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others recognizes in its preamble that prostitution “and the

    .” Moreover, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons has recommended that “[s]tates parties should be encouraged to criminalize the use of prostituted persons as a way of fulfilling their obligation under … the Protocol.”1 The CEDAW Committee, in its examination of states parties, has repeatedly asked them to discourage the

    demand for prostitution.2

  •   The link between prostitution and trafficking has also been affirmed in regional policies. The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1983 on Prostitution, trafficking and modern slavery in Europe (2014) states that ‘


    Clearly international law views the commercial sex trade as incompatible with upholding the rights of women and curbing sex trafficking. The Draft Policy that seeks to decriminalize buyers, pimps and brothel keepers would indeed facilitate the commercial sex trade.

    Finally, while police harassment can subject women to further injustice, violence and abuse, the answer is not decriminalization of the pimps, brothel keepers and buyers but holding law enforcement and state actors accountable under the law for such abuse.

    As a partner human rights organization created specifically to fill a need that Amnesty was not addressing in the early nineties — namely focusing on women’s rights — we urge you to take a fresh look at your Draft Policy in light of international law and to listen to survivors of the sex trade from all spectrums, including those who advocate for a legal approach that decriminalizes those in prostitution but criminalizes traffickers, pimps, brothel keepers and buyers of commercial sex.

    Yours sincerely,

    Yasmeen Hassan
    Global Executive Director

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