In what is being hailed as a historic human rights victory, international delegates for the influential humanitarian organization Amnesty International voted on Tuesday to adopt a resolution to press for the global decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work.
“Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, in a press statement released Tuesday. “Our global movement paved the way for adopting a policy for the protection of the human rights of sex workers which will help shape Amnesty International’s future work on this important issue.”
Officially approved at the organization’s decision-making meeting in Dublin, the resolution “recommends that Amnesty International develop a policy that supports the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work,” the organization explained. “The policy will also call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.”
The measure stems from a growing body of evidence showing that the decriminalization of the industry better protects workers’ access to health care, safety protections, and the right to organize.
The Lancet journal declared last year that decriminalization of sex work is critical to protecting sex workers’ rights and tackling the global AIDS epidemic. Moreover, the World Health Organization recommended starting in 2012 that “that countries work towards decriminalization of sex work and urge countries to improve sex workers’ access health services.” And the Global Commission on HIV and the Law declared in a report released in 2012: “Rather than punishing consenting adults involved in sex work, countries must ensure safe working conditions, and offer sex workers and their clients access to effective HIV and health services and commodities.”
Perhaps most importantly, growing numbers of sex workers have called for the decriminalization of their industry, with many from around the world speaking out and signing petitions in favor of Amnesty’s proposal.
“The decriminalization model is the only legal model for sex work that is based within the human rights framework,” wrote two South African organizations—Sisonke (a national sex workers’ movement) and Sex Workers’ Education and Advocacy Task Force. “The decriminalization of sex work can support increased respect, protection, and fulfillment of sex workers human rights as enshrined in the South African Constitution and could have a direct impact on improving sex workers’ lives.”
The African Sex Workers’ Alliance lauded Amnesty’s proposal for highlighting the “health, human rights, and harm reduction impact of decriminalizing sex work and the importance of promoting sex workers’ human rights.”