East African governments have come under scathing criticism by three human rights groups for allegedly abetting the violation of commercial sex workers in the two countries, a statement on Tuesday said.
The statement was a product of a three-day workshop which the groups held in the Uganda capital, Kampala, to address the plight of sex workers in East Africa.
It said, “Sex workers are vulnerable to a wide range of human rights abuses, often as a result of government practices, which hinder their access to appropriate and quality health services.”
The meeting, organised by Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) – Kiswahili for African Mothers – in partnership with the Open Society Initiative for East Africa (OSIEA) and the Open Society Institutes’s Sexual Health and Rights Project (SHARP), brought together 35 activists and experts from allied groups in Kenya and Uganda to discuss an evidence-based approach to health and human rights.
“It’s time for dialogue and action on the violation of sex workers’ rights,” said Ms Solome Nakaweesi, executive director of AMwA.
“Why are sex workers denied the rights that everyone else enjoys? Too often people with the least power and awareness of human rights are most vulnerable to HIV and other abuses,” Ms Nakaweesi said.
In East Africa , the statement said, sex workers encounter high levels of physical violence, including rape by police and clients.
It added, “They are also subject to extortion and demands for bribes and sexual favours. Government agencies regularly refuse to help sex workers who have been abused or whose rights have been violated. ”
The abuses, coupled with discrimination from society in general, frequently force sex workers into hiding, effectively blocking their access to the most basic health, justice, and social care services, the groups said.
The meeting was convened to discuss the difficulties experienced by sex workers and share information on the prostitutes’ access to rights and safety in East Africa.
They said such discussions were critical to reduce risk for sexually transmitted diseases and to improve overall health and wellbeing.
“What sex workers in East Africa need is protection not condemnation,” Anne Gathumbi, OSIEA chief executive said.
The groups complained that the Uganda government’s objection to the meeting was an instance of the widespread lack of knowledge of international human rights.
Such objections, they said, also belie the policy commitments that governments have made to respect human rights. Panapress.