Equality Now and 97 anti-trafficking organizations worldwide, many of which are survivor-led, are gravely concerned about two reports released last year with the backing of the United Nations (UN) and which are being seen as official UN policy. These reports not only make recommendations in direct opposition to international human rights standards, but also largely ignore the experiences and views of survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking.
These two reports, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s report HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health (2012), published by UNDP, and the UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS-backed report, Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific (2012), tell countries that in order to support efforts to reduce HIV/AIDS and to promote the human rights of people in prostitution, all aspects of the commercial sex industry should be decriminalized. While the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (the International Bill of Women’s Rights) calls for countries to “suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women,” the UN reports at issue call for the opposite: the decriminalization of pimping, brothel-keeping and the purchase of sex. In addition, the recommendations of the reports go against mounting evidence that decriminalization and legalization – including of brothels – does not protect people in prostitution or improve their situation.
Early last month, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé sent an email to individuals and organizations who had signed our petition calling on the United Nations to listen to survivors and to clarify its position regarding pimping, brothel-keeping and buying sex.
In this email, Mr. Sidibé stated that “UNAIDS is not advocating for the decriminalization of pimping or brothel ownership
.” This is an important clarification, as recent UNAIDS-backed reports had called for the decriminalization of pimping and brothel-keeping.
While this is a significant victory, Equality Now is continuing discussions with UNAIDS and other UN agencies to ensure that their policies on the commercial sex industry take into account the experiences and perspectives of survivors of sexual exploitation and that they are consistent with UN human rights standards.
Please continue to call on UNAIDS, UNDP and UNFPA to listen to survivors and to ensure that efforts to prevent sex trafficking are effective by addressing the demand for commercial sex.