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Botswana decriminalises gay sex

In Summary

• Botswana's High Court has overturned a law criminalising consensual same-sex relations

Members of the LGBT community protesting outside Ugandan embassy.
Members of the LGBT community protesting outside Ugandan embassy.
Image: PATRICK VIDIJA

Botswana's High Court has overturned a law criminalising consensual same-sex relations.

Botswana’s High Court heard the case challenging the criminalisation of gay sex, offering campaigners a rare chance to argue for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights (LGBT) on a continent where homosexuality remains highly contentious.

Botswana’s Penal Code outlawed “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and those convicted face jail sentences of up to seven years.

The case - filed in May 2018 by a gay man whose name has not been disclosed - will argue that the criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity limits the ability of LGBT people to access basic social services, increases risks of discrimination and infringes on their basic human dignity.

“Botswana is a diverse society and the constitution protects the freedoms and dignity of all persons in Botswana, regardless of whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex,” said Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, chief executive officer of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO).

The case comes after rulings in recent years which partially acknowledged the rights of LGBT people, including their right to equal protection before the law.

Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi signalled his support for same-sex relations in a speech in December 2018, where he said LGBT citizens deserve to have their rights protected, but has not followed up his words with any new measures.

Same-sex relationships are illegal in more than 70 countries worldwide, almost half of them in Africa, where homosexuality is broadly taboo and persecution is rife.

In 2017, a transgender woman won a legal battle against Botswana’s government to be recognised as female in a landmark victory for the rights of LGBT people.

The Kenyan High Court postponed a ruling on whether to strike down or uphold a colonial-era law banning gay sex.