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Botswana top court upholds ruling to decriminalise homosexuality

In a big win for the LGBTIQA+ community in Botswana, a landmark decision by the country’s Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling to decriminalise same-sex relationships and marriages.

The court last week dismissed a petition by the Government of Botswana to quash a ruling issued by the High Court in 2019.

The June 2019 High Court ruling decriminalised consensual same-sex relationships, in a significant victory for the LGBTIQA+ community, who had been the target of frequent persecution and attacks in the African nation.

The move to decriminalise homosexuality followed an application by a student, supported by LGBTIQA+ lobby groups and human rights campaigners.

In its 2019 ruling, the court set aside laws that had imposed penalties of up to seven years in prison for same-sex relationships, declaring them unconstitutional.

The law had been in place since 1965 when it was introduced by colonialists.

The Government had filed an appeal through the Attorney-General to overturn the High Court’s decision.

In its ruling last week, the five-judge bench of the Court of Appeal said that the petition by the Attorney-General lacked merit and that annulling the 2019 High Court decision would amount to a violation of basic human rights.

“This victory is a massive one for the LGBTIQ community, and it is an indication that the judiciary in Botswana takes human rights very seriously,” said Caine Youngman, head of policy and legal advocacy for the organisation Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana. 

“It is an indication that the judiciary is willing to play their part for equality before the law.”

Based on the ruling, Botswana enters the league of only a few countries in Africa that have decriminalised homosexuality.

Although same-sex relationships and marriages are no longer criminalised in the country, Botswana does not legally recognise same-sex unions.

South Africa is so far the only African country to recognise same-sex marriage.

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