Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers Honored at AIDS Conference
(Mexico City, August 6, 2008) – The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) is the recipient of the 2008 international Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch announced today. The award, which recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations that protect the rights and dignity of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, was presented in Mexico City on August 6, 2008, at the XVII International AIDS Conference.
“Sex workers routinely face human rights abuses, including the discriminatory denial of health services, arbitrary detention by police, harassment, and sexual and physical violence,” said Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “This award recognizes the extraordinary contribution of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers in the struggle for sex workers’ rights.”
Since 1994, APNSW has represented sex workers in various policy and educational forums, promoting the participation of sex workers in HIV/AIDS programs and supporting dialogue between nongovernmental organizations, governments, and activists. The group has challenged the increasing criminalization of all forms of sex work and unethical drug trials with sex workers as subjects.
APNSW has shaped policy at the global and regional levels, and built the capacity of local grassroots sex worker organizations, including by creating a network of transgender activists. Throughout Asia, the network has been challenging gender-based violence, promoting access to health care for sex workers, and advocating for the decriminalization of sex work.
“I am honored to accept this award on behalf of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers,” said Andrew Hunter, the network’s policy director. “International recognition of sex workers’ human rights is vital to curb the HIV pandemic. Governments and UN agencies need to promote sustainable, comprehensive HIV prevention and care initiatives for sex workers that are community-led and protect their human rights.”
The stigmatization, social exclusion, and legal marginalization of sex workers contribute to human rights violations, and can exacerbate their risk of HIV infection. Increasingly, according to APNSW, anti-trafficking efforts and laws criminalizing transactional sex have resulted in violence and human rights abuses against sex workers at the hands of police. The organization pointed to new anti-trafficking legislation in Cambodia, where sex workers have been sent to “rehabilitation” centers and subjected to sexual violence and beatings, and had little access to health care or food.
“Being a part of APNSW – working in solidarity with tens of thousands of sex workers in the region – has allowed us to challenge the way the authorities have applied this law in Cambodia, and to gain strength to bring this issue to international attention,” said Kao Tha of the Women’s Network for Unity, a sex worker rights organization in Cambodia.
“The International AIDS Conference presents a forum to focus worldwide attention on the epidemic and our global response,” said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch. “Unfortunately, too often that response has been tainted by prejudice and misinformation. Only by ensuring the health and human rights of sex workers will governments, UN agencies, donors and nongovernmental groups be effective at reducing the vulnerability of sex workers to HIV infection. The Asia Pacific Network’s work epitomizes this.”
The Awards for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights were established in 2002 by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch. An award is presented annually to one Canadian and one international recipient. This year’s Canadian recipient was Peter Collins, a prisoner and health activist in Ontario, Canada.