Justice Michael Lebru struck down the colonial-era law outlawing homosexuality in Botswana on Tuesday, June 11 2019. This ruling makes Botswana one of the very first countries in southern Africa to do so through its court, and comes just in time for Pride Month.
According to Justice Lebru, sexual orientation is not a “fashion statement”, and the archaic law banning homosexuality was a violation of the right to freedom and an enforced discrimination for the country’s citizens. Although sentencing of the “crime” of homosexuality was reportedly seldom carried out, those found out to be homosexual previously faced up to seven years in prison.
“It is not the business of the law to regulate the private behavior of two consenting adults,” Leburu said. “We are not looking for people to agree with homosexuality but to be tolerant.”
Homosexuality is still unlawful in 50% of Africa’s countries, and as same-sex relationships are often still viewed as taboo, harassment and discrimination are still rife.
Countries such as Mozambique and the Seychelles have erased the mention of homosexuality from their penal codes during the rewriting process that has accompanied constitutional reform. South Africa is the only country that has human rights based on sexual orientation written into its Constitution.
Botswana, which is home to just two-million people, is looked at as one of the country’s most stable democracies, and elections in the country will take place this October. The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have not figured centrally in the campaign, but President Mokgweetsi Masisi has expressed his support for the community.
“Just like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected,” he said at a rally last year.