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

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Europe Regional Correspondent

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

“The Russian movement of activists and advocates for sex workers’ rights, Silver Rose, presented an Alternative Report for the Committee,” said Irina Maslova, Leader of Silver Rose. 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.

In Russia, third party activities* are punishable by up to eight years in prison, and sex work is punishable as an administrative offence, with a fine of 1,500 to 2,000 rubles (21-28 euro). In 2015, at least 12,269 sex workers were charged with administrative offences 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 organisation in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that has engaged with CESCR on sex workers’ rights. “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 October 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 recommended the removal of 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 NSWP member Sex Workers' Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN).

“At the Forum of Sex Workers, which will be held in St. Petersburg from 30 October to 1 November 2017, we will discuss how we will use the received recommendations,” Maslova wrote.

*The term ‘third parties’ includes managers, brothel keepers, receptionists, maids, drivers, landlords, hotels who rent rooms to sex workers and anyone else who is seen as facilitating sex work.