Botswana's High Court rejects laws criminalizing gay sex

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In a landmark ruling, the court declared section 164 of the penal code which criminalised same-sex relations unconstitutional. "Homosexuality is another form of sexuality that has been suppressed for years", said Justice Michael Leburu.

Activists celebrate outside the High Court in Gaborone, Botswana, Tuesday June 11, 2019.

"There's nothing reasonable in discriminating".

Those in the courtroom posted videos of the reaction, with people screaming and hugging, when the decision was announced.

Legal policy director at Legabibo, Caine Youngman, said that the verdict "hit home".

In Geneva, the United Nations agency UNAIDS added to the applause. "Criminalization contributes to stigma and gives free rein to discrimination more generally, leading to lesbian, gay, bisexual and, in some cases, transgender people being denied health care, education, employment and housing", she said.

But, just last month, Kenyan judges upheld laws banning gay relationships after judges found they were not discriminatory. An unnamed applicant is challenging two sections of the code that threaten offenders with a jail sentence of up to seven years. "It means freedom", said Mmolai-Chalmers.

But when the case came to court in March, when the ruling was postponed until Tuesday, the lawyer for the state challenged those bringing the case to provide concrete evidence attitudes in conservative Botswana, where Christianity is the main religion, had changed. "The question of private morality should not be the concerns of the law".

The rights group added that other African countries should follow Botswana's example.

The court has therefore, decriminalised consensual same sex conduct in Botswana.

"There is a decline of morals, this is not only about bedroom life because it affects the whole behaviour of a human being, our values and morals as Botswana".

Nearly five months after Angola adopted a new penal code that decriminalizes homosexuality, another African country, Botswana, has followed suit, discarding its colonial-era law that frowns on consensual same-sex relations. However, Botswana's southern neighbor, South Africa, remains the only country on the continent to have legalized same-gender marriage as well.

Out of 54 African countries, at least 32 of them have enacted laws making it illegal to have gay sex, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. Some have even made it a capital offence punishable by death - Mauritania, Sudan, southern Somalia and northern Nigeria.

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