Botswana Legalizes Same-Sex Relationships, Bucking Africa Trend

Mbongeni Mguni

(Bloomberg) -- Botswana’s High Court court struck down sections of a law criminalizing homosexuality, making the southern African nation one of the few on the continent to end discrimination against same-sex relationships.

“We are saying private sexual relations between consenting adults must be decriminalized and we hereby proclaim that,” Michael Leburu, the chairman of the three-judge panel, told a packed courtroom in the capital, Gaborone. “Gender issues may raise cultural concerns, but this cannot be used to justify violation of human rights.”

Botswana joins South Africa and Angola in decriminalizing homosexuality, but it is still illegal in 36 African countries, according to Open For Business, a coalition of global companies advocating inclusive and diverse communities. Other nations, including Tanzania and Uganda, have moved to tighten rules against homosexuality.

The Botswana case, brought by a 24-year university student, was supported by local and regional gay rights groups who welcomed the ruling.

“We still have a lot of work to do in terms of educating people about human rights, and what it means to be a majority with a responsibility to protect the rights of the minority,” said Cindy Kelemi, a director of the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/Aids.

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Tshiamo Rantao, a lawyer for Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, said the ruling “is a victory for human rights, for the applicant and for Botswana because the court spoke to the question of plurality, meaning we exist together but we are different.”

Botswana’s neighbor, South Africa, is the only country in Africa to legalize same-sex marriage.

Kenya in May upheld a law that criminalizes same-sex relations, with a three-judge bench ruling the colonial-era legislation didn’t contradict the constitution.

Neighboring Tanzania last year appointed a task force to enforce its laws against same-sex relations. The East African nation has made it illegal for pregnant school girls to attend classes and banned some songs that mention sex or politics.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mbongeni Mguni in Botswana at mmguni@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Hilton Shone at hshone@bloomberg.net, Gordon Bell, John Viljoen

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