Amnesty UK AGM's decisions on sex work to date

AIUK has passed four resolutions in the last six years related to the legal status of sex work, in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 respectively.

Chronologically, the first of these was proposed by the Newcastle-Upon-Tyne local group, the second by the Board and the last two by the Paisley local group.

2008 AGM:

The Newcastle-Upon Tyne local group proposed resolution 17 of the 2008 AGM in which they proposed that Amnesty should support the decriminalisation of sex work. Members attending the AGM amended that resolution in order to remove all of the operative parts that would have adopted a policy position and instead called for a comprehensive study to be undertaken at the international level. This was decided by vote, which means that the proposer opposed them as unfriendly. In other words, Newcastle Group did not want the changes.  The call for support for decriminalisation was therefore rejected at this AGM.

The following text shows resolution 17 as originally tabled.

Highlighted in bold and in brackets are the parts that were removed by amendment:

RESOLUTION 17: RIGHTS OF SEX WORKERS IN EUROPE

This AGM notes that: the Council of Europe Resolution 1579 asks member states to recognise the basic principle of difference between coerced and non-coerced sex-workers.

This AGM also notes that: the 2005 Declaration of the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe states that all individuals within Europe, including sex workers, are entitled to human rights; (the Declaration therefore fits within fundamental AI principles such as the freedom of conscience and expression and the freedom from discrimination.

This AGM resolves to:

  • Support the Council of Europe Resolution 1579 by recognising the basic principle of difference between coerced and non-coerced sex workers
  • Support the 2005 Declaration of the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe
  • Support the decriminalisation of prostitution on the basis that prohibition creates a criminal market that stigmatises and alienates sex workers)

This is the actual wording adopted by the AGM:

B5 RIGHTS OF SEX WORKERS IN EUROPE

This AGM notes that: the Council of Europe Resolution 1579 asks member states to recognise the basic principle of difference between coerced and non-coerced sex workers.

This AGM also notes that: the 2005 Declaration of the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe states that all individuals within Europe, including sex workers, are entitled to human rights.

The AGM decides to call for a comprehensive study to be undertaken at the international level.

2009 AGM and ICM:

In 2009, the Board of AIUK, in line with the decision taken in 2008, brought a resolution to the 2009 AGM seeking AGM approval to table a resolution to the 2009 International Council Meeting calling for a policy study on the issue of prostitution and human rights.  The International Council Meeting takes place every two years and is the highest decision-making body of Amnesty International at which all Amnesty sections are represented.

The Text of the resolution and background note submitted by Board are as follows:

B5 PROSTITUTION & HUMAN RIGHTS

This AGM DECIDES that AIUK will table a resolution to the 2009 International Council Meeting calling for a policy study on the issue of prostitution and human rights.

PROPOSER: AIUK BOARD

Board Background note

Through Decision B5, the 2008 Annual General Meeting decided to call for a “comprehensive study to undertaken at the international level” on the rights of sex workers in Europe. The Board of AIUK has sought to implement this by tabling a resolution to the 2009 International Council Meeting, the text of which is reproduced in italics below In tabling the resolution, the Board has not sought to limit the scope of a comprehensive review to the rights of sex workers in Europe, since this would be inappropriate for an organisation with a worldwide mandate. Nor has the Board sought to pre-empt the conclusions of the review by recommending policy change, as amendments during last year’s AGM debate removed wording suggesting a particular stance should be taken.

International Council Meeting deadlines mean that the resolution tabled by AIUK cannot be amended until the ICM takes place in August. However, if the AGM rejects the present resolution, the Board will seek to withdraw its resolution from the ICM.

This resolution was passed and therefore the following Resolution and explanatory note was presented to the 2009 International Council Meeting.   However In the event, at the 2009 ICM, AIUK withdrew this resolution because of lack of support from the wider movement.

Text of the 2009 ICM Resolution and Explanatory Note:

The International Council Meeting

DECIDES that the International Executive Committee shall undertake a comprehensive review of the human rights issues related to prostitution and state responses to prostitution.

At the start of the Stop Violence Against Women campaign, Amnesty International set out its position on prostitution in a statement (ACT 77/033/2004). Whilst the statement recognises that where prostitution is illegal this can increase the vulnerability of women and girls to abuse, it explicitly states that Amnesty International takes no position on legal strategies in response to prostitution (such as legalisation, criminalisation, decriminalisation or regulation).

Amnesty International’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign and its work on people trafficking (in particular trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation) has also brought the organisation closer to debates “voluntary” prostitution. AIUK’s experience has been that the organisation is increasingly requested to comment on initiatives such as the Swedish approach of penalising clients or to enter other debates on the issue.

Debates around prostitution and state responses are significant and frequently polarised within feminist discourse and amongst organisations focussing on  the rights of women. Additionally, the adoption of a resolution by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (Resolution 1579 (2207)) indicates a possibility of increased debate in intergovernmental organisations concerned with human rights.

The purpose of the review would be to provide an operational resource for staff and activists who encounter debates but more particularly to provide an assessment on whether any changes of policy are necessary and desirable. Such a decision should be based on whether such changes would strategically enhance AI’s ability to speak out on (for example) gender rights, sexual autonomy and poverty.

In tabling this resolution, AIUK has tried to avoid using words that suggest policy change is an inevitable outcome of any study. However we do feel a comprehensive review is merited given experiences arising from the Stop Violence Against Women campaign, work on refugees and migration, policy shifts relating to sexual and reproductive rights and possible future issues arising.

2010 AGM:

Resulting from a resolution proposed by AIUK’s Paisley Local Group, the AGM made the following decision:

2010 AGM DECISION A1

A1 PROSTITUTION

In light of the Integrated Strategic Plan’s (2010-2016) long term perspectives, in particular, the need to integrate gender and women’s rights, international justice and the exploitation of children throughout the perspectives, AIUK believes the time is now right to ask the International Secretariat to undertake a review on the issue of prostitution and human rights.

2012 AGM:

Resulting from a resolution, again proposed by AIUK’s Paisley Local Goup, the AGM made the following decision:

AGM 2012 Decision C4. Prostitution

PREAMBLE
There are significant human rights issues relating to prostitution and state responses to prostitution.

In 2011, when considering the potential migration strategy looking at migration and labour exploitation, AIUK recommended a review of policy in the area of trafficking for sexual exploitation and prostitution. According to the most recent update from the ICM, the International Secretariat will be recruiting an adviser to research and analyse the human rights laws, standards, and practice pertaining to criminalization in a wide range of areas including prostitution.

RESOLUTION
This AGM decides that:

the particular and inextricable relationship between prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation has not been highlighted sufficiently this should be stressed and prioritised in reviewing policy both in the potential migration strategy and in the criminalisation review.