June 11, 2019 at 12:04 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Botswana High Court decriminalizes homosexuality in country

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Botswana’s High Court on June 11, 2019, issued a unanimous ruling that decriminalized homosexuality in the country. (Photo by Ted Eytan; courtesy Flickr)

Botswana’s High Court on Tuesday issued a ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the African country.

The Associated Press reported the court unanimously ruled sections of the Batswana penal code that criminalized homosexuality with up to seven years in prison were unconstitutional. Activists were inside the court room when the three judges issued their ruling.

“It has taken a long time for our community to be where it is,” said Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, chief executive officer of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo), a Batswana LGBTI advocacy group, in a press release. “This incredibly life-changing decision, although it does not right all the wrongs done to individual members of the LGBT community, is a step towards restoring our dignity as human beings.”

Advocacy groups in the U.S. and around the world also praised the ruling.

“Today’s historic decision by Botswana’s High Court puts an end to a law that discriminated against and violated the most fundamental human rights of an entire group of people,” said Human Rights Campaign Director of Global Partnerships Jean Freedberg in a statement.

Richard Grenell, the openly gay U.S. ambassador to Germany who has been tapped to lead a Trump administration initiative that urges countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations, also praised the ruling.

“The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights is clear that criminalizing homosexuality is in direct violation of U.N. principles,” tweeted Grenell after the court announced its decision. “This is good news.”

The Botswana High Court issued its ruling less than a month after Kenya’s High Court upheld the constitutionality of the country’s colonial-era sodomy law. Angola, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe are among the African countries that have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in recent years.

“For far too long, people entering same-sex relationships in Botswana were discriminated against by the very same laws that are supposed to protect them,” said Amnesty International Deputy Director for Southern Africa Muleya Mwananyanda on Tuesday. “This court decision marks an exciting new era of acceptance, which should inspire other African countries to follow suit.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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