Botswana Appeals Court Upholds Landmark Decision To Decriminalize Homosexuality

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In an unanimous decision, the five judges in Botswana’s Court of Appeals upheld the 2019 court decision to decriminalize gay sex. On Monday, the ruling struck down two sections of a penal code that made homosexuality punishable by up to seven years in jail.

According to Reuters, the country’s High Court made the landmark decision to legalize same-sex relationships in June 2019. The next month, Botswana’s government appealed the decision arguing that the courts have no jurisdiction to decide on the issue or the people’s attitude toward homosexuality.

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Now that the country’s highest appeals court upheld the previous decision, the decision cannot be further appealed.

“Those sections have outlived their usefulness, and serve only to incentivise law enforcement agents to become key-hole peepers and intruders into the private space of citizens,” said Judge President Ian Kirby who read the court’s decision. The ruling determined that criminalizing homosexuality violated the constitutional rights of LGBT people to “dignity, liberty, privacy and equality.”

From Reuters:

“This will forever change the landscape of democracy, human rights and equality in Botswana. Finally the state will have no business in what two consenting adults do in their privacy,” Sethunya Mosime, chairperson the Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), said outside the court.

“This case has tested Botswana democracy and independence of judiciary. We can strongly say Botswana is a true democracy.”

Botswana’s penal code, drawn up under British rule, outlaws “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”. Those convicted face up to seven years in prison. It also outlaws “indecent practices between persons” in public or private, punishable with up to two years in prison.

Government officials were not immediately available to comment on the ruling, which cannot be further appealed as it was decided by the highest court.

According to the Guardian, many supporters of the decision to decriminalize were gathered outside of the court Monday for the decision. Many see it as a win for not only the LGBTQ community, but hope for other African countries in the fight to decriminalize homosexuality.

In many African countries like Kenya and Nigeria, homosexuality is still illegal and can even carry a death sentence if convicted. South Africa is the only African country that has legalized gay marriage.

“I feel really happy, I feel relieved, I feel hopeful about our future as the LGBTIQ community in our country. I feel protected. I have all sorts of emotions, but the bottom line is I am really happy,” Caine Youngman, from the organization Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, told the Guardian.