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UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Recommends Russia Decriminalise Sex Work

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) recommended that Russia decriminalise sex work on 6 of October 2017, in their concluding observations to Russia’s sixth periodic review. This recommendation was the result of advocacy by SWAN members Silver Rose, a sex worker organisation in St. Petersburg, and New Life from Ekaterinburg.

“The Russian movement of activists and advocates for sex workers’ rights ‘Silver Rose’ presented an Alternative Report for the Committee,” Irina Maslova, leader of Silver Rose, wrote. The Silver Rose Alternative Report documents how criminalisation harms sex workers in Russia. It describes how police raids affect sex workers’ “living and working conditions, as well as their vulnerability to violence and to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.” Silver Rose also travelled to Geneva to present their report to the Committee.

SWAN members New Life from Ekaterinburg drew the attention to the high rate of HIV prevalence among the sex workers – up to 43 per cent were infected – which was largely due to the criminalization of sex work. The moralizing mentality was a form of structural violence, said the speaker, and asked the Committee to call upon Russia to repeal Article 6.11 which violated the rights of three million sex workers.

In Russia, third party activities are punishable by up to eight years in prison, and sex work is punishable as an administrative offense, with a fine of 1500 to 2000 roubles (21-28 euro). In 2015, at least 12,269 sex workers were charged with administrative offenses in Russia. CESCR’s concluding observations for Russia express concern that “sex workers face obstacles in accessing healthcare services owing to the criminalisation of sex work, and are vulnerable to police violence, increased occupational risks, and to HIV/AIDS infection…”

The concluding observations also recommend that Russia “consider decriminalising sex workers, and ensure that [sex workers] can fully access health care services and information, including treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, without discrimination” and “take all necessary measures to punish and prevent police violence against sex workers.”

While sex worker organisations in other regions have previously engaged with CESCR, Silver Rose is possibly the first sex worker organisation in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that has engaged with CESCR on sex workers’ rights issues. “Fortunately, we managed to draw the attention of Committee members to our problems,” Maslova wrote.

Sex worker organisations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, including Silver Rose, had previously focused on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).  In November 2015, Silver Rose submitted a Shadow Report to CEDAW that led the Committee to recognise penalisation of sex work as the cause of widespread violence and discrimination against sex workers in Russia and recommend the removal of the Article 6.11, the administrative law that penalises selling sex. More information about CEDAW advocacy by other sex worker organisations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is available in “Reporting from the Shadows: Using CEDAW to Advocate for Sex Workers' Rights in Central Eastern Europe and Central Asia", a guide created by SWAN.