PARIS — After days of emotional debates and intense lobbying,
delegates from Amnesty International voted on Tuesday to support
a policy that calls for decriminalization of the sex trade,
including prostitution, payment for sex and brothel ownership.
The vote came on the last day of a biennial meeting in Dublin of
about 400 members of the human rights organization from 60
countries. They had gathered to set the group’s future policies.
The proposal about prostitution provoked an aggressive lobbying
campaign by international groups opposed to sparing buyers and
pimps from penalties. Competing petitions were organized by
women’s groups and celebrities— including former President Jimmy
Carter, who issued a letter on Monday — appealing to the group
to maintain penalties for buyers and to “stay true to its
With the vote, Amnesty International’s 12-member board will now
hammer out the final draft of a policy that the group will use
to lobby governments to repeal most laws that forbid the sale
and purchase of sex. The group’s resolution called for a policy
that “supports the full 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,” Salil Shetty, the secretary
general of the organization, said in a statement after the vote.
The proposal split human rights activists. Amnesty chapters in
Sweden and France pressed the group to support a so-called
Swedish or Nordic model, now followed in several Scandinavian
countries, that spares prostitutes from penalties but sanctions
the buyers with heavy fines and prison terms. Lawmakers in
France are pushing new legislation to punish buyers that most
likely will be voted on in the fall.
After the vote, the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution,
a French organization, vowed that it would no longer work with
Amnesty International. “Amnesty chooses impunity for pimps and
johns and not protection from sexual abuse for all women,” the
coalition’s executive director, Grégoire Théry, said.
Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s foreign minister, said she was
concerned about the effect of Amnesty’s new policy because it is
a respected organization.
“They mixed all these arguments, and that worries me,” she said.
“It is a myth about the happy prostitute who does this as a free
choice. Unfortunately, I can now hear people saying ‘hurrah’ —
all those johns and pimps who run the brothels. It’s a
Amnesty will give its national chapters leeway to decide whether
to support or lobby for decriminalization.
“There are no plans to have a major campaign with a focus on
this,” said Sarah Beamish, a board member who will help draft
the final policy over the next few months. “It’s really up to
each section to take this issue up on the local level. There are
no plans for a global focus.”
Although the vote was taken openly among the delegates, the
meeting was closed and the vote count was kept confidential. Ms.
Beamish said the resolution had passed “comfortably.”