LGBT group in Botswana wins right to register with the government, despite gay sex ban

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An LGBT group in Botswana has won its battle to be allowed to register with the government, even though gay sex is illegal in the South African country.

On November 14, the High Court of Botswana made the historical decision that the government had violated the Constitution when officials blocked the organization Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) from registering. The group has been fighting for the privilege since 1998.

Homosexuality is considered a taboo subject in Botswana, commonly seen as “un-African” and a Western “disease.” The Botswana Penal Code forbids “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature,” and “indecent practices between persons,” but provides no definitions for either. The word “homosexuality,” or older terms such as “buggery,” do not actually appear anywhere in the document.

Some sources say that Botswana’s law against homosexuality is rarely (if ever) enforced, including a 2011 Human Rights Practices report by the US Department of State, which notes that it did not find that police were targeting “same-sex activity.” It also says that “there were no reports of violence against persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity during the year,” although any claims that there are none to be reported are questionable.

As Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointed out regarding the situation in Russia, authorities’ explicit approval of homophobia resulted in “a deteriorating situation of widespread and concerted abuse against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and activists. The authorities’ failure to act and some officials’ homophobic comments expose LGBT people to further harassment and violence and embolden the attackers.”

A press release by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre quoted LEGABIBO coordinator Caine Youngman as saying, “Lesbians, gays and bisexuals have long strived to be able to form an organisation which can support them and be their voice on matters that affect them. It has been a long and arduous journey towards recognition and we are relieved that the court has protected our rights.”

A lawyer with the Litigation Centre, Anneke Meerkotter, is also quoted as saying, “The judgment emphasises the importance of the rights to freedom of expressions, association and assembly in a democracy. The judgment will benefit not only the prospective members of LEGABIBO, but any minority group which seeks to uphold its right to freedom of association in Botswana in the future.

“Importantly, the judgment emphasised that it is not a crime to be homosexual or attracted to someone of the same sex. The court finding is important not just for activists in Botswana but throughout Africa.”

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