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Botswana Decriminalizes Gay Sex in Landmark Africa Case

11 June 2019

People who broke the law had faced the threat of a seven-year prison sentence.

"Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalised", Judge Michael Leburu said while delivering the judgement.

Last month, Kenya's high court refused to scrap laws criminalising homosexuality, dealing a blow to the country's gay community that rippled across a continent where homophobia is rife.

At the Botswana high court hearing in Gaborone in March, lawyers for the applicant said public opinion on same-sex relationships had evolved and employment laws now outlaw discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

"Sexual orientation is human, it's not a question of fashion", he said.

In Kenya, a law banning gay sex was upheld by the Kenyan High Court in May 2019.

Homosexuality is criminalized in more than half of African countries, many of which inherited penal codes from colonial powers such as Britain.

Botswana's High Court on Tuesday decriminalized homosexuality.

Another 29 countries in Africa retain laws criminalizing same sex relations, including Malawi where those found engaging in same-sex sexual acts face a maximum 14 years in prison with hard labour. "Homosexuality is not unAfrican, but it is one other way Africans identify but have been repressed for many years".

Botswana, which is sparsely populated and home to just over 2 million people, is one of Africa's most stable democracies.

"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", Matlhogonolo Samsam from Botswana's lesbian, gay and bisexual organisation (Legabibo) told AFP.

In Sudan, as well as parts of Nigeria and Somalia, it is punishable by death. Amnesty International called on other African nations to follow Botswana's example in "an exciting new era of acceptance". "Just like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected", said the president at the December gathering.

The judges cited the president's comment in their ruling.

In recent years, Botswana has made a number of strides for LGBT rights. The High Court in 2017 ruled that the government should issue a transgender man documentation reflecting his identity, and in 2016 an appeals court ruled that LEGABIBO could register as a nonprofit.

"It is a day to celebrate pride, compassion and love", UNAIDS executive director Gunilla Carlsson said in a statement after Tuesday's ruling.

Botswana Decriminalizes Gay Sex in Landmark Africa Case