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Amnesty moves to decriminalize prostitution

August 11, 2015

London-based rights group Amnesty International has said - amid criticism - it will push for the legalization of prostitution. Research suggests punishing sex workers counterproductive, the group has said.

Image: picture-alliance / rolf kremming

Delegates from 70 countries at Amnesty International's annual conference voted Tuesday to advocate for legalizing consensual sex trade, the group announced.

"We recognize that this critical human rights issue is hugely complex and that is why we have addressed this issue from the perspective of international human rights standards," said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. "We also consulted with our global movement to take on board different views from around the world."

Amnesty's stance is significant because it uses its clout and influence to lobby national governments. It says its news policy will be the best way to defend sex workers' rights and reduce the risk of beatings, violence, harassment and extortion.

Group's stance already controversial

Already news of the group's decision has created a backlash among some women's advocacy groups.

"What we don't agree with is the decriminalization of pimps, buyers and brothel owners ... They are the ones which create demand," Esohe Aghatise, anti-trafficking manager with women's rights group Equality Now told news agency Reuters.

But Amnesty says it will only advocate sex workers on a consensual basis.

"We have to be careful with words like pimp because people often interpret that to mean an exploitative third party and we would not be calling for the decriminalization of an exploitative third party," policy adviser Catherine Murphy said. "What (the new policy) would mean is the decriminalization of laws on consensual sex work."

The issue of prostitution is controversial in most parts of the world as national governments grapple ways to regulate or restrict what is commonly known as "the oldest profession."

In Europe, France recently moved to criminalize the purchasing rather than selling of sex which follows the lead of Nordic countries like Iceland, Sweden and Norway.

Sex work is legal and regulated in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and elsewhere.

Amnesty's announcement follows a two-year consultation of research from United Nations agencies, academics, non-governmental organizations and human rights lawyers, the group said.

jar/bw (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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