Botswana court upholds landmark ruling decriminalising homosexuality

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Image: Justice Hubane/Unsplash

LGBTIQ rights campaigners in Botswana are cheering after their country’s appeals court upheld a landmark ruling decriminalising same-sex relationships.

The African nation’s government appealed an earlier 2019 ruling that criminalising homosexuality was unconstitutional. That ruling was a major win for campaigners on the continent.

Prior to 2019, the country’s Penal Code made “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” illegal.

Convictions were punishable with up to seven years in jail.

But this week, the appeals court’s five judges unanimously ruled that criminalising same-sex activity and relationships violates the constitutional rights of LGBTIQ individuals to dignity, liberty, privacy and equality.

The judges concluded “the march of time and change of circumstances” made the Colonial-era laws unconstitutional. There is “no public interest purpose” in the sections remaining in Botswana’s Penal Code, the judges ruled.

“Those sections have outlived their usefulness and serve only to incentivise law enforcement agents to become keyhole peepers and intruders into the private space of citizens,” court of appeal president Ian Kirby said.

Botswana ruling ‘victorious win for liberty and dignity of LGBTIQ community

Local LGBTIQ group LEGABIBO celebrated the appeals court ruling, which is final and binding.

They said decriminalisation is a crucial step to addressing the stigma and discrimination experienced by LGBTIQ people in Botswana.

LEGABIBO CEO Thato Moruti said it was a “momentous day” for the community.

“The ruling is a victorious win in ascertaining liberty, privacy and dignity of LGBTIQ people in Botswana,” Moruti said.

“[It is] a new dawn for better education and awareness of LGBTIQ issues.”

LEGABIBO’s head of legal and policy Caine Youngman said the judges’ decision would set an example for other African countries with similar archaic laws.

“For me to have this judgement in my lifetime is an important milestone,” Youngman said.

“[It’s] a relief and indication that people’s civil liberties are taken seriously.

“I hope the parliament of Botswana will learn from the judiciary. [They should] take the necessary steps to institute legislation that protects the LGBTI community from any kind of violence.”

Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries, with convictions carrying a death sentence in some.

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