Statement from SANGRAM
INDIAN NGO SAYS NO TO US FUNDS, REJECTS IMPOSITION OF CONDITIONS
With regard to the article US accuses NGO of 'trafficking' by Rema Nagarajan in the Hindustan Times, Washington, September 29, 2005, we strongly refute the charge that SANGRAM supports trafficking for sexual exploitation. SANGRAM has been working on HIV/AIDS prevention and for the rights of people in prostitution for more than a decade. We oppose trafficking for any purpose and believe it is a criminal offence. We believe that the use of minors in prostitution is child sexual abuse. The thousands of women and children who have benefitted from our services and all of our actions and advocacy, which have always been subjected to public scrutiny, attest to our commitment to the end of the exploitation of trafficking. The accusations leveled against SANGRAM in the article are completely and shockingly unfounded. The completely untrue character of these accusations can only lead to the supposition that they have been fabricated because SANGRAM works in favour of the human rights and empowerment of all women, including women in prostitution, which is an idea that is threatening to conservative forces in the United States and elsewhere.
The HIV/AIDS prevention programme of Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM) with women in prostitution is a peer-based initiative that seeks to motivate and empower women on issues concerning their lives and that of their community. This intervention led to the formation of a collective of women in prostitution called the Veshya AIDS Muqabla Parishad (VAMP) registered in 1996. In fact, external evaluations conducted by the AVERT society strongly recommend that the SANGRAM project with women in prostitution should be made into a demonstration and training center, as a best practice. This HIV/AIDS prevention programme with women in prostitution was also accepted as a best practice by NACO, UNAIDS, and UNESCO. The renowned international organization Human Rights Watch recognised the work of SANGRAM and VAMP as an outstanding example of a human rights-based response to HIV/AIDS as it conferred its annual Human Rights Defender award on the SANGRAM general secretary in 2003.
The MOU between SANGRAM and Avert society [ USAID] was terminated on mutual grounds because of SANGRAMs refusal to comply with the conditions imposed by the United States' Leadership Against Global HIV/AIDS Act of 2003. The US Embassy in Delhi has also confirmed in writing on October 6, 2005 to SANGRAM that, funding was not removed from SANGRAM for trafficking in persons.
However we would like to state that we oppose the conditions and moral strings that the US conservatives attach to foreign funding, especially around HIV/AIDS in developing countries. Indias HIV/AIDS policy guidelines as put out by National AIDS Control Organization [NACO] is explicit in supporting high risk groups including sex workers to combat HIV/AIDS.
Earlier this year, even the Government of Brazil, refused a grant of 40 million US dollars from the United States. Pedro Chequer, director of Brazil's AIDS program and chair of the national commission (which includes cabinet ministers, scientists and AIDS advocates) that decided to refuse the grants, viewed the Bush administration policy as "interference that harms the Brazilian policy regarding diversity, ethical principles and human rights." (The Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2005). Since then, two respected international organizations that provide services to people at risk of HIV/AIDS, DKT International and the Open Society Institute, have each brought a lawsuit against the United States government on similar grounds. These legal actions allege that requiring HIV/AIDS service organisations to denounce prostitution as a condition of receiving US support is both against the spirit of working respectfully with at-risk persons and a violation of the right of civil society organizations to free expression.
We protest the manner of the United States dealing with aid to developing countries with strings attached. We have seen this time and time again with programs such as Indias family planning/population control, structural adjustments programs, the TRIPS agreement, and environmental issues, amongst others. SANGRAM and VAMP would not be true to our mission of local empowerment, including of all women and girls, if we succumbed to the dictates of people who do not apparently understand that victories against HIV/AIDS have been won when those most at risk are respected and empowered.