Botswana decriminalized homosexuality on Tuesday with the Supreme Court overturning a colonial-era law that punished gay sex in up to seven years in prison.
Same-sex relationships are illegal in more than 70 countries around the world; almost half of them in Africa, where homosexuality is largely taboo and persecution is plentiful.
"Discrimination has no place in this world. All human beings are born equal. Homosexuality is another form of sexuality that has been suppressed for years, "said Judge Michael Leburu.
The case, which local media reported had been brought in by a college student, argued that the government should end the law in the light of a modified society in which homosexuality was more widely accepted.
Human rights group Amnesty International welcomed the decision as "marking a new and exciting era of acceptance that should inspire other African countries to do the same."
"With this decision, Botswana said" not to intolerance and hatred and "yes" to the hope and equality of all people, "said Muleya Mwananyanda, deputy director of Amnesty International for southern Africa, in a statement.
Botswana's decision comes after Kenya's high court upheld the law banning gay sex, keeping the same sex punishable by 14 years in prison, drawing strong criticism from the United Nations and rights activists.
The criminal code of Botswana, drawn up under British rule, previously prohibited "carnal knowledge of anyone against the order of nature," those sentenced to up to seven years in prison, as well as "indecent practices between people" in public or private. , punishable by up to two years in prison.
Earlier decisions partially recognized the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the South African country, including their right to equal protection before the law.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi also signaled his support for same-sex relations in a speech in December 2018, where he said that LGBT citizens deserve to have their rights protected.
But when the case came to court in March, when the ruling was postponed until Tuesday, the state lawyer challenged those who took the case to provide concrete actions in Botswana, where Christianity is the main religion, had changed.
"We still have a lot to do to involve all opposing factions, be it our religious community, our cultural community – we need to involve them and educate them about the need to be tolerant," said Cindy Kelemi, executive director of the Botswana Network. on Ethics, Law and HIV / AIDS, told the local newspaper MMEGI after the trial.
Botswana is the last African country to decriminalize same-sex relationships, with Amnesty saying it follows Angola in January, Seychelles in June 2016, Mozambique in June 2015 and Sao Tome and Principe and Lesotho in 2012.
South Africa is the only African nation to legalize gay marriage.
Report of Brian Benza; Written by Tanisha Heiberg; Edition by Alison Williams