Amnesty International is one of the great organisations of the modern world. Few can have done more to establish the simple propositions that human rights matter and that they matter for everyone. It has exalted the lowly and brought down the mighty from their seats. And it is poised to make a serious mistake.
The organisation’s international council meeting in Dublin which starts on Friday this week will consider a motion urging that sex work be decriminalised. This is in itself a contestable position. There are many feminists who recoil from it. The letter signed by film actors who are normally reliable allies of Amnesty shows how damaging it is. On the other hand there is a body of professional opinion quoted in the Amnesty proposal, which argues that decriminalising sex work minimises the harm done to sex workers and allows it to be more effectively regulated.
The Amnesty proposal is carefully framed to avoid the obvious evils. It is not as silly or immoral as headlines can make it appear. It would only apply to adults over 18 who were working without coercion, deceit or violence. It addresses a real, global problem, which is that sex workers are almost everywhere treated as outcasts who may be exploited at will. Their rights are routinely violated, in part because they are sex workers. Nonetheless, the organisation should reject the policy.