Botswana’s High Court, today June 11 overturned a colonial-era law criminalizing same-sex relations in a landmark victory for Africa’s LGBTQ movements.
Section 164 of Botswana’s Penal Code outlaws ‘carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature’. Those convicted are liable to imprisonment of up to seven years. In May 2018, a gay man known only as LM filed a petition in the High Court arguing the laws were unconstitutional.
The High Court delayed the start of the hearing, but in December announced it would start on March 14 this year. Nearly three months later, the court unanimously ruled that the legislation was discriminatory, unconstitutional and against the public interest.
“A democratic society is one that embraces tolerance, diversity and open-mindedness, societal inclusion is central to ending poverty and fostering shared prosperity,” Justice Michael Leburu said, noting that discriminatory law not only serves as a detriment to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and Queer (LGBT+) people but holds back all of society.
The decriminalisation of same-sex relations in Botswana contrasts with Kenya’s recent ruling against those campaigning to overturn laws on LGBT as the Kenyan court which held the case dismissed it.
Botswana is not the first African country to decriminalise same-sex relations. Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles have all scrapped anti-homosexuality laws.
Botswana, with a population just over 2 million, is one of the most stable democracies on the African continent. The Southern African country is scheduled to hold elections in October this year but so far, Botswanan President Mokgweetsi Masisi has expressed his support for the LGBT+ community. “Just like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected,” the president said at a December gathering.
The ruling in Botswana could provide precedence for other African countries that criminalize same-sex relations. Last month, Tunisia’s leading LGBT+ rights group won a four-year battle against the government and with that, the group believes it will win the same-sex relations battle it has been fighting.