Sunday , October 17 2021

Botswana collects gay sex laws in great victory of LGBTQ rights in Africa



The court in the southern African country unanimously ruled on Tuesday that the legislation is discriminatory, unconstitutional and against the public interest.

"A democratic society is one that adopts tolerance, diversity and open-mindedness," said Judge Michael Leburu, noting that the discriminatory law is not only detrimental to LGBT people, but retains the whole society.

"Social inclusion is key to ending poverty and promoting shared prosperity," he said.

Under section 164 of the Botswana Penal Code, "carnal knowledge of anyone against the order of nature" was an offense that led to a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. Section 167 made "acts of gross indecency" – in public or private – a punishable offense, with up to two years in prison.

The case was brought to court in March by Letsweletse Motshidiemang, a 21-year-old student at the University of Botswana, who argued that society had changed and that homosexuality was more widely accepted, local media reported.

The crowded courtroom erupted into applause of joy at the verdict.

Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, coordinator of Legabibo, a prominent LGBTQ rights group in the country, told CNN that the verdict would have a tangible impact on the daily lives of LGBTQ individuals, saying that this would help access to legal and health services.

"Before we were fighting, people are hiding," Mmolai-Chalmers said.

"This judgment can make a great change for our lives.This is what most excites me.The judgment means a lot … The court has maintained our dignity, our privacy and our freedom … It means freedom," she added.

Human rights lawyer Keikantse Phele called the trial "a welcome development," adding that "there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of access to all services, spaces and development."

While homophobic attitudes continue to prevail in some parts of the country, Botswana activists and LGBTQ supporters have marked some victories for the movement in recent years. The Employment Act of 2010 made it illegal for employers to terminate contracts based on sexual orientation. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the government should allow Legabibo to register as an organization, and two landmark rulings in October and December 2017 laid the groundwork for trans people to more easily change their official gender identity documents.
Following a brutal attack on a transgender woman last November, Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi expressed support for LGBTI people, saying that "there are many same-sex people who have been raped and also suffered in silence for fear of being discriminated ". . […] Like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected. "
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The historic Tuesday decision is a victory for LGBTQ activists and supporters in a country – and region – where homosexuality remains largely taboo.

Of the 54 African countries, at least 31 of them have enacted laws that make gay sex illegal, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).

In parts of Nigeria and Somalia, and in Sudan, it is punishable by death; in Mauritania, the death penalty is a possible punishment. In Tanzania, being convicted of having same-sex relationships can result in life in prison.

In January, the Angolan parliament adopted a new penal code, for the first time since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975, which paved the way for lawmakers to remove the provision that characterizes same-sex relationships as "vices against the nature".

Mozambique removed anti-gay laws in 2015, while Sao Tome and Cape Verde also abolished laws criminalizing homosexual relationships.

Although Kenya has overturned the law that criminalizes homosexuality in May – and remains a deeply conservative and religious society – its courts have shown some independence in recent years in relation to LGBT issues.

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In 2018, an appeals court in Mombasa ruled that forced sexual examinations of persons suspected of sexual activity between men of the same sex are unconstitutional after the arrest and forced examination of two men by 2015. The decision reversed a court decision in 2016 "Later that year, a Kenyan court temporarily suspended a ban on the controversial film" Rafiki, "which told the story of a romantic lesbian relationship.
However, attempts to further criminalize homosexuality have been made in countries such as Uganda, South Sudan, Burundi, Liberia and Nigeria in the last five years, according to a report by Amnesty International. In some African countries, conservative leaders continue to spread harmful and false rhetoric, in which they "openly and falsely accuse LGBTI of spreading HIV / AIDS and of" converting " children to homosexuality, "according to the report.

Around the world, 70 UN member states – nearly half of which in Africa – continue to criminalize same-sex relationships among adults, according to the ILGA-sponsored homophobia report in 2019.

In 26 of these countries, the sentence ranges from 10 years' imprisonment to life.

Stephanie Busari and CNN's David McKenzie contributed to this report.


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