: Responding strongly to remarks made by Elly Katabira, president of the International AIDS Society, the organisers of the ongoing 19{+t}{+h}International AIDS Conference in Washington who reportedly said that the exclusion of sex workers and drug users from the conference was not an issue as they are “criminals,” Andrew Hunter, president of the Global Networks of Sex Projects (NSWP), said here on Thursday that it was “shocking.”

“This International Conference (in Washington) we believe has been a huge missed opportunity with key affected populations such as sex workers missing from the conversation on how we can work together to end AIDS,” Mr. Hunter told journalists here at the parallel international conference for sex workers that was organised here after they were denied entry into the United States for the conference at Washington. It was attended by sex workers from 42 countries.

On the penultimate day of the conference here, Mr. Hunter, Bharati De, secretary of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), and M. Bhagyalakshmi, president of the All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW), unveiled the “Kolkata Platform for Action.”

“We, female, male and trans sex workers across the globe have united in Kolkata for the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival. Our gathering represents a protest against the violence of stigma and discrimination of the United States policies and practices,” the declaration states.

The document focuses on three core values: “acceptance of sex work as work”, “opposition of criminalisation of sex work”, and “support for self-organisation and self-determination of sex workers” and calls for the seven freedoms discussed in the course of the conference.

Dr. S. Jana, chairperson of the conference here and the chief advisor of DMSC, quoted from the report of the Global Commission on HIV and the law that states “HIV is an epidemic of bad laws.”

“There is an urgent need to address the laws, policies and practices at the national, regional and international level,” he said.

Strong reactions also poured in from several sex workers at the conference who unequivocally asserted, “we are not criminals.”

Ruth Morgan Thomas, global coordinator of the NSWP, said: “We need to shout very loudly at Washington; at the President of the International ADIS Society.”