Amnesty votes to decriminalise sex work and prostitution
Up to 500 delegates pass resolution at International Council Meeting in Dublin
Policy will also call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation. Photograph: Getty Images
Amnesty International has taken the controversial step of voting for the decriminalisation of sex work and prostitution, as well as for the decriminalisation of the purchase of sex.
Up to 500 delegates from across the world passed the resolution on Tuesday at the charity’s 32nd International Council Meeting (ICM), which has been taking place in Dublin.
The resolution means the ICM calls on Amnesty’s international board to “adopt a policy that seeks attainment of the highest possible protection of the human rights of sex workers, through measures that include the decriminalisation of sex work”.
The ICM is a closed, private biennial event at which delegates discuss all aspects strategy, policy and budget for the organisation for the next four years.
In a statement the charity said the resolution had been informed “by the findings of a two-year consultation”.
The consultation, with individuals and groups including sex worker groups, groups representing survivors of prostitution, abolitionist organisations, feminist and other women’s rights representatives, concluded “this was the best way to defend sex workers’ human rights”.
The organisation’s “overarching commitment” was “to advancing gender equality and women’s rights”.
“Amnesty International considers human trafficking abhorrent in all of its forms, including sexual exploitation, and should be caramelised as a matter of international law.”
Sahil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, described sex work and prostitution as a “hugely complex . . . critical human rights issue”.
“Sex workers are one of the most marginalised groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse,” he said.
The policy will also call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.
In Ireland, it will bring Amnesty International into direct confrontation with plans by Government to criminalise the purchase of sex, as advocated for by the successful Turn Off The Red Light campaign. That campaign was spearheaded by the Immigrant Council of Ireland and supported by about 70 national women’s and trade union organisations.
The heads of new Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2014, published in November, contain measures to criminalise the purchase of sex, along the lines of the approach taken in Sweden, and other Nordic countries.
Advocates say this approach deters those who purchase sex and reduces the harm to women and girls coerced into prostitution and the sex industry.
Critics, however, say the approach fails to acknowledge the position of those who choose to be in the sex industry, whether because of a lack of other economic options or because they want to.
They say it will not eliminate the sex industry, will push it further underground, and could further endanger an already vulnerable group.
They are particularly critical that the proposed legislation does not decriminalise soliciting in public, or sex work in brothels, saying women remain vulnerable to prosecution.