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Human Rights - A European Challenge? Malka Marcovich









1999 marks a new step in the construction of the European Union. Since the first of January 1999 the European Union united its economic and political processes with a common currency-the Euro. This political and economic construction cannot happen without common norms, common laws, and common strategies. As the European Union is constructed, it wants to reaffirm basic principals of human rights. It is within these considerations that a strong, but covert battle is taking place on the question of the legalization of the market of the body. On one side, Sweden has established a new norm with its new law that criminalizes the men who buy sexual services-johns-since January 1999. On the other side, wherever possible, the Netherlands is pushing the norm which legalizes pimping. Through a new law proposed on February 2, 1999 in the Dutch parliament, brothels will be legalized. The Netherlands also pushes for this new norm in any debate that takes place among the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, or in any international forum and organization. For more than a decade, representatives of the Netherlands have progressively excluded prostitution from any discussion which would connect it to violence against women and trafficking in women.

What’s at stake in Europe? Legislative and social norms created here will serve as models beyond Europe with international consequences. Europe considers itself to hold and present high secular principals of human rights to the world. It has a strong and ambitious mission to enhance its image in the eyes of the world.

But what is Europe exactly? Even for the European citizen of the European Union, things seem to be very complicated and not always understandable. In June 1999 a new parliament will be elected and in the fifteen countries of the European Union-the campaigns have already started. The main issues being addressed are empowerment, work and the environment. There is no mention of sexual violence or prostitution, except in the program of the European Party, a Dutch party, which wants to move into other European Union countries. Its program does mention the fight against child pornography and trafficking.

Is Europe the economic and political Europe of the European Union, or is it more than that? Europe has a wooly and precise identity at the same time. Depending on the site of the project of cooperation, it is a cultural, a geographical, a political or an economic entity. Before the split of the communist block, Europe seemed to have a clear definition. The myth of a European identity was built on the idea of democracy, human rights and political and economic interests. The establishment of the two main bodies of Europe-the Council of Europe and the European Union-took into account those ideas. But while the first was establishing human rights and cultural principals, the second was focusing on political and economic construction. To understand the mechanisms of those two official, independent political structures and their influence in world policy, and specifically on the issue of trafficking and prostitution, one must go back to their origins.

The Council of Europe

In 1999, the Council of Europe celebrates its 50th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the European Convention of Human Rights. Created in May 1949 in a London Conference, its purpose after World War II was to pursue a peace process, based upon "justice and international cooperation," which was considered to be "vital for the preservation of human society and civilization." In Article 1a and b of its statute, it defines the frame of common action in economic, social, cultural, scientific, legal and administrative matters and in maintenance and further realization of human rights and fundamental freedom."

In fact, during the last 50 years, most of the United Nations Conventions connected to human rights have found their equivalent in European Conventions within the Council of Europe--except the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, 2 December 1949. The Council of Europe deals with all the cultural, educational, scientific, health and human rights issues, and even has sanction mechanisms on human rights questions as defined in the European Declaration of Human Rights of 1949. The question of democracy has always been in the center of the debates. In 1969, Greece was pushed to leave the Council of Europe because of the Colonel Putsch. Since 1949, progressively, most of the European countries have become members of the European Council. Since the breakup of the communist block, many new countries have joined the Council of Europe, which today is made up of forty countries. Many of the newly joined countries are ones from which women are trafficked. This is one of the reasons why many countries from the former Soviet Union were in attendance at the conference on trafficking in Strasbourg in June 1998, even if they are not part of the European Council.

The United States and Japan have observatory status at the Council of Europe; and Israel and Canada have a deliberatory status at the parliamentary level, even if not officially belonging to the European Council. Three hundred and sixty nine NGOs have consultative status, among which we can find the International Federation of the Pornographic Industry.

The European Union

In 1957, Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, signed the Rome Treaty, which created the Economic European Community. During the last forty years, this new entity, whose initial project was a common market, has grown to become the European Union in 1993, and in 1999 is comprised of 15 countries. The institution of the European Union is built upon a parliament with 626 members elected from the member countries, a Council of Ministers and a Commission of 20 members, a Court of Justice, a European Central Bank and a European Committee on Budgetary Control.

The question of equality between men and women has become one important issue in the European Union in 1984, when the Commission of the Rights of Women was created. In 1993, the question of trafficking also became an issue, but disconnected from the issue of prostitution. In 1997, an inter-ministerial conference in The Hague tried to establish common guidelines to combat trafficking. The question of violence against women has also become a crucial issue, but at the same time, prostitution has been excluded from the theme of violence against women. Every year funds have been given on a specific aspect of violence against women. The Daphne funds were created for this purpose and are awarded to NGOs working in cooperation in different countries of the European Union. In 1997-1998, the Daphne Funds were awarded to projects against trafficking, but excluded programs that precisely dealt with prostitution. In 1999, the Daphne funds were given to projects against domestic violence within the conceptual framework of the year: "the year of zero tolerance of violence against women".

It is interesting to notice that large public campaigns are operated to address the questions of equality and violence against women, and at the same time, the issue of prostitution has been systematically put aside because it is connected with the economic growth of the sex industry. The Dutch, with the complicity or solidarity of most of the countries of the EU, have conceptualized and pushed their liberal project which makes of the human body a consumer product.

Even if European citizens elect the parliament, there is no strong civil lobby that can influence its decisions. No NGOs have consultative status. This lack of representation is the reason a group of women from nine European countries created the European Women’s Lobby in 1990. Since then it has been recognized by the European parliament as a valid interlocutor on women’s right issues. Today, the European Women’s Lobby, with 2,700 federated NGOs throughout Europe, has an official, global anti-prostitution stand. But in each country of Europe, the national branch of the Lobby does not always have the same position. The president of the European Women's Lobby, Denise Fuks, elected in June 1998, has an uncompromising stand on prostitution. The existence itself of the European Women's Lobby has been endangered lately, with the will of the European Commission to remove the Commission on the Rights of Women in December 1998. A strong public mobilization has delayed this decision to the year 2001.

Europe and the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others

Since the Conference on Trafficking in Women at the Council of Europe in June 1998, there has been a call for a new convention to replace the convention of 2 December 1949. One of the arguments advanced is that the 1949 Convention has never been properly applied. In the project for a new convention, the concept of "forced" or "non voluntary prostitution" has replaced the link made in the Convention of 1949 between trafficking and prostitution. Under the banner of a united fight against trafficking, any oppositional stand is considered to be only ideological. The report of this conference is very clear. The Convention of 1949 isn’t even mentioned anymore among the UN or European international instruments to fight trafficking. Nevertheless, this convention is still listed as one of the UN instruments against slavery and slavery-like practices. To be effective, the 1949 Convention needs an optional protocol for implementation.

This new Convention will effectively break the connection between prostitution and trafficking. Then prostitution will be considered only in the economic sector. This is probably one of the reasons that the Dutch are pushing so strongly to draft a new convention on trafficking within Europe.

The question to be considered is: can Europe celebrate the Human Rights Declaration and the abolition of slavery when it promotes a contemporary form of slavery-prostitution. The myth of the European construction of democracy is at that price and it will serve as a model for the rest of the world.

Members and number of representatives at the Council of Europe

The following is a list of countries with the number of representatives they have at the Council of Europe. If the country has ratified the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, the date of ratification is given. It is important to indicate that the former communist countries and former Soviet Union have ratified the 1949 Convention. Japan who has an observatory status ratified the Convention in 1958; and Israel who has deliberating status ratified the Convention in 1950.

Country No. Rep Country No. Rep
Albania 1958 4 Lithuania 4
Andorra 2 Luxembourg 1950 3
Austria 6 Malta 3
Belgium 1965 7 Moldova 5
Bulgaria 1965 6 Netherlands 7
Croatia 1992 5 Norway 1962 5
Cyprus 1983 3 Poland 1962 12
Czech Republic 1993 7 Portugal 1992 7
Denmark 1951 5 Romania 1952 10
Estonia 3 Russia 1954 18
Finland 1972 5 San Marino 2
France 1960 18 Solvak Republic 1993 5
Germany 18 Slovenia 1992 3
Greece 7 Spain 1962 12
Hungary 1955 7 Sweden 6
Iceland 3 Switzerland 6
Ireland 4 "former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" 3
Italy 1980 18 Turkey 12
Liechtenstein 2 Ukraine 1954 12
Latvia 1992 3 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 18

The following is a list of the countries and number of representatives from each country that will be elected to the European Parliament in June 1999. There will be a total of 626 representatives elected every five years. A "yes" or "no" indicates whether the country has ratified the 1949 Convention. Eight countries have ratified the 1949 Convention, but most of them, like Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Luxembourg, Spain, it is not even considered an instrument and these countries' national legislation are in opposition to most of the 1949 Convention's articles. Spain, for example, officially legalized brothels in 1995. France, who has a very ambiguous stand, is still the only country in the world, which has a central office for pursuing traffickers (Office Central de Repression de la Traite des Êtres Humains). Sweden has unofficially ratified the Convention with its new law criminalizing the buying of sexual services. This new law puts it far in front of the Convention of 1949.

Members of European Parliament Elected in June 1999
Germany (no) 99
France (yes) 87
Italy (yes) 87
the United Kingdom (no) 87
Spain (yes) 64
the Netherlands (no) 31
Belgium (yes) 25
Greece (no) 25
Portugal (yes) 25
Sweden (no) 22
Austria (no) 21
Denmark (yes) 16
Finland (yes) 16
Ireland (no) 15
Luxembourg (yes) 6


Malka Marcovich was born in France in 1959. She is a historian and a journalist with fields of specialization in "The Final Solution," the Nazi plan for extermination of the Jews in Europe, and, since 1993, sexual exploitation. She is the author of the study "The last rumor of the Just, or social collective’s sensibilities in the 60s through the success of the book, The Last of the Just, by Andr¾ Schwarz-Bart," Ecole des Hautes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, 1986. Since 1985 she has worked as a journalist. She was the interviewer for the film And Then the Silence, based on testimonies of Jewish survivors after World War II. Her latest study was "Sexual and sexist violence in high schools," Delegation aux Droits des Femmes, Vaucluse, France, 1998. Malka is also the Founder and President of Movement for the Abolition of Prostitution and Pornography and All Forms of Sexual Violence and Sexist Discrimination (MAPP) in France.







Published by
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, February 1999
Donna M. Hughes and Claire M. Roche, Editors
ISBN 0-9670857-0-50
Donna M. Hughes, dhughes@uri.edu