Biden Administration Silent on Prostitution in UN Debate

By | May 27, 2021

NEW YORK, May 28, (C-Fam) The Biden administration appears to be signing off on language supporting the decriminalization of prostitution and illegal drugs in a draft resolution by the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) that will guide UN programming for the next five years.

A recent compilation of ongoing negotiations obtained by the Friday Fax reveals the U.S. did not comment on proposed language calling for “removing punitive and discriminatory laws, policies and practices that block effective responses to HIV.” This includes “laws that criminalize any aspect of sex work, sexual orientation and gender identity, drug use and possession for personal use, consensual same-sex sexual relations…”

In multilateral negotiations, a country’s silence indicates indifference, acceptance, or approval. The U.S. Mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for clarification.

For the past three weeks, countries have been debating a draft political declaration on HIV/AIDS.  Occuring every five years, the process has become highly contentious due to Western donor countries and UNAIDS using it to advance controversial social norms. The gradual integration of reproductive health and family planning into HIV/AIDS policy has shifted the focus from the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS to the advancement of “sexual rights.”

After two rounds of negotiations, the draft resolution also contains multiple references to language used to promote abortion, LGBT rights, and sexual autonomy for children. Negotiators engaged in the process told the Friday Fax these issues are being “hard-lined” by the United States and the European Union.

The draft resolution disappointed many delegations for concentrating on harm reduction rather than risk avoidance. Harm reduction strategies have failed to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with men, and individuals that engage in other high-risk behaviors such as prostitution, promiscuity, and drug use.

An April listening session with civil society led by UNAIDS along with Australia and Namibia consisted mainly of pro-abortion and LGBT organizations. International Planned Parenthood Federation—now an official partner of UNAIDs—and pro-sex-work organizations called for decriminalization.

More conservative organizations were not given the opportunity for interventions, and they were not invited to attend despite accepted procedures requiring that all organizations with UN accreditation are invited.

“We have heard your call to address discrimination, stigma, criminalization and violence against key populations and other vulnerable groups,” said Australian Ambassador Mitchell Fifield. “You have said the identities and behaviors of gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, and people who use drugs should be decriminalized in order to end the aids epidemic.” Fifield is overseeing the negotiations as co-facilitator. Australia’s northern territory decriminalized prostitution in 2019, receiving praise from UNAIDS.

UNAIDS has long been a proponent for the decriminalization of prostitution. The World Health Organization also supports this position despite condemnation from anti-trafficking groups and prostitution abolitionists who believe decriminalization will only fuel the sex trade and trafficking of poor women and girls.

In a press release in February UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima welcomed the Biden Administration decision to rescind the expanded Mexico City Policy which blocked international abortion clinics from U.S. funding. Abortion clinics that integrated HIV/AIDS services reported closures or forfeiture of funding refusing to stop performing or promoting abortion.

Negotiations on the political declaration continue this week in advance of a high-level meeting scheduled for June 8-10 when it will likely be adopted by the General Assembly.