Metro Weekly

Botswana to appeal court ruling that decriminalized homosexuality

Country's attorney general claims unanimous court decision was wrongly decided

Botswanans celebrate the high court’s decision decriminalizing homosexuality. – Photo: Legabibo, via Facebook.

Botswana’s government has announced it will appeal a ruling from the country’s high court last month that effectively overturned the country’s laws criminalizing homosexuality.

Attorney General Abraham Keetshabe agreed to appeal the court’s decision after reading the 132-page unanimous ruling, arguing that the court “erred in arriving at [its] conclusion.”

Under the country’s penal code, adopted in 1965, same-sex relations, or “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” are punishable by up to seven years in prison, reports The Daily Mail.

The penal code also contained prohibitions on “acts of gross indecency” — whether committed in public or private — carrying a maximum sentence of two years in prison.

But the high court found that the country’s anti-sodomy laws violate the privacy, liberty, and dignity of LGBTQ Botswanans, are discriminatory in nature, and serve no greater public interest.

“We say the time has come that private, same sexuality must be decriminalized,” high court judge Michael Elburu said of the court’s June 11 ruling. “It is a variety of human sexuality.”

The court’s decision brought Botswana into alignment with several other African countries that have overturned colonial-era laws prohibiting homosexuality, including Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Cape Verde and the Seychelles.

However, the Supreme Court in nearby Kenya ruled in May that the country’s laws penalizing homosexuality were legal, finding that decriminalizing same-sex relations could eventually lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage, which is contrary to the country’s founding values.

The United States recently announced a campaign aimed at convincing the 71 nations with laws that punish homosexuality or same-sex consensual relations with prison time or the death penalty to overturn those laws.

Most of those countries are in Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.

Jessica Stern, the executive director of OutRight International, commended the high court for its decision, which she said upheld “international human rights standards.”

“With this decision, the court continued its record of trailblazing recognition of the human rights of LGBTIQ people,” Stern said in a statement. “It is disappointing that the government of Botswana falls behind its judicial colleagues, and continues to ignore its LGBTIQ citizens and miss opportunities to advance equality for all, thus causing harm to not only the LGBTIQ people in Botswana, but to society as a whole.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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