Botswana today overturned its colonial-era laws that made homosexuality a crime punishable by seven years in prison.
The decision by the High Court in Botswana was hailed by LGBT rights activists who had gathered for the announcement.
Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, a leader of the Botswanan LGBT rights group Legabibo, stated:
“This incredibly life-changing decision, although it does not right all the wrongs done to individuals in the LGBT community, is a step toward restoring our dignity as human beings.
“The decision has several implications for the LGBTIQ community. Not only does it provide legal affirmation and recognition of the rights of LGBTIQ persons, but it allows an important space for addressing public health issues more efficiently and effectively.
“We can start building a more tolerant society. The real work starts now.”
“All people are entitled to autonomy over their sexual expression,” High Court Justice Michael Leburu said, reading the court’s ruling. “It restores privacy, respect and dignity to the country’s LGBT people, and it is a day to celebrate pride, compassion and love”.
“A democratic nation is one that embraces tolerance, diversity, and open mindedness. … Societal inclusion is central to ending poverty and fostering shared prosperity.”
Levaru added that is is “not in the public interest” to criminalise same-sex sexual conduct. “What compelling public interest is there necessitating such a law?” he said.
“Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalised.”
Legabibo had submitted expert evidence before the Court that “illustrated how continued criminalisation of same-sex sexual conduct limits the ability of LGBTIQ persons to access basic social services, exposes them to stigma and discrimination, and infringes on their basic human dignity.”
As Pink News reported, the challenge to the country’s penal code was made by an anonymous gay man, who is known only by the initials LM. In a written statement he told the High Court in March … “We are not looking for people to agree with homosexuality but to be tolerant.”
The Botswana decision comes less than a month after Kenya’s High Court refused to take similar action, upholding Kenya’s colonial-era anti-gay laws.
More than two dozen countries in sub-Saharan Africa have laws criminalizing gay sex, but southern Africa is more tolerant.
In January, Angola, which borders Botswana, adopted a new penal code without the law on “vices against nature” that had been in effect since 1886, when Angola was a Portuguese colony.
Mozambique took a similar action when it adopted a new penal code in 2014.
Homosexuality has long been legal in the Republic of South Africa.