CATW Responds: Amnesty International Turned Its Back on Women

CATW International August 12, 2015

Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) Statement on Amnesty International’s Resolution to Decriminalize Pimps, Brothel Owners and Buyers of Sex


New York, August 11, 2015 – Today, at the conclusion of its 32nd International Council Meeting (ICM) and amidst much contention and debate, Amnesty International voted for a resolution that urges government, worldwide to adopt laws and policies that endorse the full decriminalization of the sex industry, including pimps, brothel owners and buyers of sexual acts. 


Amnesty's Press Release announcing their vote seems innocuous to the naked eye with language about gender equality, women's rights, human rights standards and child sexual exploitation. Don't be fooled. Amnesty's call on governments to decriminalize the sex industry underlines a willful and callous rejection of women's rights and equality. The human rights organization opted to side with the multi-billion dollar international sex trade and to exclude prostituted individuals — who are overwhelmingly women and girls from disenfranchised racial, ethnic and economic groups — from the rights granted to all people in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 


Throughout the deliberation and "research" process that Amnesty claims led them to its resolution, they deliberately excluded the voices and expertise of survivor-leaders and women's rights organizations working to end violence and discrimination at the local, regional and international levels. Additionally, Amnesty ignored growing evidence of the catastrophic effects of the decriminalization of the sex industry, especially that it leads to an increase in sex trafficking in legal brothels and gives state-sanctioned license to purchase individuals for sexual acts that include acts of torture, such as is the case in Germany. Instead, Amnesty has maintained its resolve to widen the door for human rights abuses against prostituted individuals on a global scale.  


By failing to uphold its own mission of protecting the rights of all human beings to live a life free of violence and with dignity, guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Amnesty has severely damaged its reputation, credibility and legitimacy. Even worse, it has condemned the most marginalized human beings to exploitation in the sex trade. For instance, currently an estimated 2-3 million women and girls are exploited in India's sex industry. Should the Indian government take Amnesty's advice to decriminalize brothel owners and pimps, there would be an exponential growth of untold profits from commercial sexual exploitation and a vast increase in the number of women and girls suffering in the sex trade.


We hope that Amnesty will one day recognize that its decision to decriminalize the sex industry is in gross violation of long established human rights principles and international conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). We will continue to urge Amnesty International to advocate for governments to adopt laws that solely decriminalize those engaged in selling sex and to hold accountable those who profit from such exploitation.


In the meantime, we join our colleagues around the world who are calling upon the country sections that rejected the resolution and Amnesty's membership to choose respect for human rights instead of the "right" to pimp, exploit and purchase sexual acts. 


Finally, we send our most profound thanks to the over 600 prominent individuals and organizations worldwide that signed our Open Letter and expressed a unified voice on behalf of all women. Heartfelt thanks and solidarity go to the survivors of the commercial sex trade whose experiences continue to inform us about the inherent and pervasive harms of the sex industry and guide us toward the best solutions to uphold the human rights of the most vulnerable among us. We stand with you, always.


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The worldwide response to this decision has been swift and condemnatory, especially from survivors of the sex trade and women's rights organizations around the world, neither of which Amnesty consulted while developing its policy. Below are a few links to media and statements, including by French and Swedish officials: 


On Point with Tom Ashbrook: What Decriminalizing Sex Work Would Mean


New York Times: Amnesty International Votes for Policy Calling for Decriminalization of Prostitution 


tendance ouest: Dépénalisation de la prostitution et du proxénétisme : une "régression considérable" pour la députée Ameline 


Feminist Current: After Amnesty, what’s next? A call to action (http://feministcurrent.com/13049/after-amnesty-whats-next-a-call-to-global-action/)


Medium: On Prostitution, the Left has Taken a Right-Wing Turn


Irish Examiner: Amnesty prostitution vote rebuked


Other critical voices in the human rights and women’s rights movements also spoke out, including:


President Carter 


Prostitution Research & Education 


SPACE International


Equality Now 


Leaders in the LGBTQ community 


This public and international outcry urging Amnesty to stand with the exploited rather than with their exploiters would not have happened without you. Your voice made a difference and continues to send the urgent message to Amnesty that turning its back on the most vulnerable individuals bought and sold in the sex trade is unacceptable. 


This work is now more urgent than ever. If you would like to support CATW as it continues to ensure the rights of all women and girls are upheld, including by human rights organizations, find out how your can help here