A ruling by the High Court today will see Botswana decriminalise homosexuality. The court ruled to overturn colonial era laws on homosexuality. The decision is a landmark win for LGBTIQ rights activists in Africa.
In its ruling the court said that penalizing people for who they are is disrespectful.
The three judges said in a unanimous ruling that the law should not deal with private acts between consenting adults.
Further they said the right to privacy includes sexual orientation, which is innate and not a fashion statement.
LGBTIQ activists packing the courtroom cheered the ruling.
The judges noted that all three arms of the Botswanan government supported decriminalisation.
Matlhogonolo Samsam from Botswana’s lesbian, gay and bisexual organisation LEGABIBO spoke about the potential for reform back in March.
“If this law is decriminalised it will be a positive thing for the community because it will protect their right to privacy and their right to express themselves the way they feel.”
Botswana’s penal code outlaws ‘carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature’. The law carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison. A further crime of ‘indecent practices between persons” in public or private, attracts a punishment of up to two years in prison.
Letsweletse Motshidiemang, the 21-year-old university student who brought the case, argued that the government should decriminalise homosexuality in light of changing community attitudes.
His lawyer Gesego Lekgowe told the court in March that people now accepted homosexuality more readily than before.
“When the laws were put in place… society was not ready to accept same sex relations.”
LGBTIQ Rights in Africa
More than half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa criminalise homosexuality.
Homosexuality is taboo in many countries and LGBTIQ people suffer persecution, including violence and extra-judicial killings.
However, Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles moved to decriminalisation in recent years.
Despite that, the Kenyan High Court last month upheld a colonial-era law criminalising gay sex.
That ruling surprised activists. In recent years the court showed increased willingness to rule in favour of LGBTIQ rights.
A local correspondent told QN Magazine that church organisations in Kenya brought pressure to bear on the court through a campaign of intimidation.
LGBTIQ rights in Botswana
Recent court rulings in Botswana moved in the direction of acknowledging the rights of the LGBTIQ communities.
In 2017, a court recognised a transgender woman as legally female. That ruling gave hope to activists for further reform.
Presidential support for Botswana to decriminalise homosexuality
President Mokgweetsi Masisi previously offered support for same-sex relations.
“There are also many people of same-sex relationships in this country who have been violated and have also suffered in silence for fear of being discriminated.
“Just like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected.”
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