Victory in court for Botswana LGBTI rights group

The LGBTI rights group Legabibo won a crucial legal victory this week at the High Court in Botswana, gaining the right to be legally registered as an independent organization.

Coverage of the achievement is here:

A logo of LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana)
A logo of LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana)
  • “LEGABIBO triumphs in Botswana court”

LEGABIBO press release — … “This is a great victory for LGBTI people in Botswana,” said Caine Youngman, LEGABIBO Coordinator and one of 20 applicants in the case. “We have come one step closer to the full equality and justice that we seek.

“The judgment is important not just for LGBTI Batswana but everyone in
our country who wants to see our democracy grow even stronger,” he added. … [See full text below.]

Human Rights Watch —  … “The court’s ruling is a significant victory for the LGBT community, not only in Botswana but elsewhere in Africa where LGBT groups have faced similar obstacles to registration,” said Monica Tabengwa, LGBT researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Botswana High Court decision is a milestone in the fight for LGBT people’s right to equality under the law.” …

Justice Terence Rannowane (Photo by Ogopoleng Kgomoethata courtesy of the Botswana Daily News)
Justice Terence Rannowane (Photo by Ogopoleng Kgomoethata courtesy of the Botswana Daily News)

Members of LEGABIBO submitted an application for registration on February 16, 2012. The application was rejected on March 12, 2012, on grounds that the Botswana Constitution “does not recognize homosexuals,” and that the application would violate section 7(2)(a) of the Botswana Societies Act. That section allows the government to deny an application for registration if “it appears … that any of the objects of the society is, or is likely to be used for any unlawful purpose prejudicial to or incompatible with peace, welfare or good order in Botswana.” …

In upholding the application, Justice Terence Rannowane of the Botswana High Court in his ruling said that freedoms of association, assembly, and expression are important values of society, and that the “enjoyment of such rights can only be limited where such limitation is reasonably justifiable in a democracy.” The decision continued: “The objects of LEGABIBO as reflected in the societies’ constitution are all ex facie lawful. They include carrying out political lobbying for equal rights and decriminalization of same sex relationships.”

 

BuzzFeed — This is the culmination of a 10-year battle in the Southern African country, where LEGABIBO’s fundraising and other activities have been hindered by its inability to get official sanction to operate. …

The ruling does not appear to affect Botswana’s sodomy law, which includes the same provision criminalizing homosexuality as most other former British colonies in Africa. But a ruling that it is discriminatory to deny LGBT people the right to form organizations could provide the foundation for a legal strategy that might later allow a direct challenge to the sodomy code.

This is the hope in Kenya, where a court ruled in July that authorities could not deny registration to the organization Transgender Education and Advocacy. Following this ruling and the defeat of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in the Constitutional Court of neighboring Uganda in August, the director of Kenya’s National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission announced a lawsuit would be filed to challenge Kenya’s sodomy statute. …

Press release from LEGBIBO:

LEGABIBO triumphs in Botswana court:
LGBTI rights group wins right to legal registration

LEGABIBO today won the right to be legally registered in Botswana, marking a decisive victory for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community in Botswana. The ruling of the High Court in Gaborone sends a message for human rights at a time when other African countries are restricting the rights of LGBTI people.

Caine Youngman, coordinator of Legabibo (Photo courtesy of the Botswana Gazette)
Caine Youngman, coordinator of Legabibo (Photo courtesy of the Botswana Gazette)

“This is a great victory for LGBTI people in Botswana,” said Caine Youngman, LEGABIBO Coordinator and one of 20 applicants in the case. “We have come one step closer to the full equality and justice that we seek.

“The judgment is important not just for LGBTI Batswana but everyone in our country who wants to see our democracy grow even stronger,” he added.

“With our independent judiciary and protection for human rights, Botswana is once again leading Africa. The judgment sends a message of
hope across a continent where the lives of LGBTI people have become more difficult and more dangerous in recent years,” Youngman said.

He said LEGABIBO, which has been working as part of the Botswana Network
on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) since 2004, will now become an independent legal entity.

Judge T.T. Rannowane ruled that the Botswana government’s “refusal to register LEGABIBO was not reasonably justifiable under the Constitution of Botswana … It violated the applicants’ rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly …”

“Lobbying for legislative reforms is not per se a crime. It is also not a crime to be a homosexual,” the judge said.

Youngman thanked the litigants, BONELA, OSISA and the Southern African
Litigation Centre (SALC), a human rights group, for their support in the case: “We could not have done it without the resilience and bravery of the litigants, the backing of BONELA, OSISA, SALC and our supporters in Botswana and around the world.”

“Above all, I am grateful to all applicants, who inspired many with their courage and determination,” he added. Many thanks to Thuto Rammoge who lead the applicants.

About LEGABIBO

LEGABIBO stands for Lesbians, Gay, and Bisexuals of Botswana. Founded in 1998, LEGABIBO advocates the rights of LGBTI people – lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people. LEGABIBO raises awareness, educates on health and psycho-social support and mediates between the LGBTI community and others.

 

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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