The commission, which is made up of 15 former heads of state, legal scholars and HIV/AIDS activists, was convened in 2010 by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and is jointly backed by the United Nations Development Programme and UNAIDS – the Joint U.N. Programme on AIDS/HIV.
The commission recommends repealing all laws that prohibit “adult consensual sex work,” as well as clearly distinguishing in law and practice between sexual trafficking and prostitution.
The report--“HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights & Health”--cites a recommendation by the International Labour Organization, which recommends that “sex work” should be recognized as an occupation in order to be regulated “in a way that protects workers and customers.”
Specifically, the commission wants to:
-- “Decriminalise private and consensual adult sexual behaviours, including same-sex sexual acts and voluntary sex work.”
-- “Reform approaches towards drug use. Rather than punishing people who use drugs but do no harm to others, governments must offer them access to elective HIV and health services, including harm reduction programmes and voluntary, evidence-based treatment for drug dependence.”
-- “Work with the guardians of customary and religious law to promote traditions and religious practice that promote rights and acceptance of diversity and that protect privacy.”
The commission calls laws against prostitution “bad laws,” and said criminalizing injecting drug use and prostitution stands in the way of “effective HIV responses.”
“Laws that criminalize and dehumanize populations at the highest risk of HIV--including men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people and injecting drug users--drive people underground, away from essential health services and heighten their risk of HIV,” the commission said in a July 9 press release announcing the report.
The commission says 116 countries and territories have punitive laws against sex work and 80 countries or territories have some legal protections for sex workers.
According to the report: “Some governments deploy anti-human trafficking laws so broadly that they conflate voluntary and consensual exchanges of sex for money with the exploitative, coerced, often violent trafficking of people (primarily women and girls) for the purposes of sex.”
The report quotes Secretary-General Ban, who stated his support in 2009 for removing all laws which criminalize “sex workers” – or prostitutes.
“I urge all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper the AIDS response,” Ban said. “Successful AIDS responses do not punish people: they protect them. We must ensure that AIDS responses are based on evidence, not ideology, and reach those most in need and most affected.”
Other recommendations include: abolishing national drug registries and mandatory HIV testing, and shutting down all compulsory drug detention centers and replacing them with voluntary services for treating drug abuse.
The commission specifically recommended that the United States should also repeal its federal ban on funding of needle and syringe exchange services that inhibit access to HIV services for people who inject drugs.
Dr. Janice Crouse, the director of the Beverly LaHaye Institute at Concerned Women for America in Washington, D.C., says the proposal to redefine and decriminalize prostitution worldwide is not new.
“(L)iberals have always used the term ‘sex work’ instead of prostitution,” Crouse said.
“They like to legitimize the whole industry that way so that it can be regulated and so that it can be considered a ‘legitimate option’ for women and give it more respectability. But, the sad fact is in every instance where prostitution has been legalized, illegal prostitution has flourished,” she said.
“The pimps all want prostitution legalized; they like that. The sex traffickers want it legalized because they gain far more traction with their own illegal activities anytime that is the case – it’s happened in Germany, it happened in Amsterdam, it’s been shown over and over again.”
Linking the elimination of laws against “sex work” with AIDS is a cop out, according to Crouse, because it ignores the role of behavior change and personal responsibility.
“It’s fascinating to me the way they (the report’s authors) dance around to avoid addressing the issue of behavior and to avoid the issue of consequences of promiscuity,” Crouse said.
“This is an example; they don’t want anything that would suggest to anybody that they ought to curb their sexual behavior. They don’t want anything to curb anybody’s enjoyment of sexual activity without consequences and all of this is an attempt to mainstream behaviors and then deal with the consequences -- and that plan does not work.”
The U.N.-backed commission interviewed prostitutes, activists and public health advocates in 140 countries across the world to come to its conclusions.
The study received funding from the governments of Canada, Norway, Australia, the U.S. (through USAID) and from billionaire Geroge Soros through his Open Society Foundations.