Botswana has scrapped laws criminalizing same-sex relations on Tuesday, in a victory for LGBT rights in Africa.
The country’s high court overturned the law dating back to colonial times that criminalized consensual same-sex relations. It’s a big step for LGBT rights in Africa, where more than 30 out of 54 countries across the continent have laws criminalizing gay sex.
Judges voting to revoke the laws said they were unconstitutional. Sexual orientation “is an important attribute of one’s personality,” and “is not a fashion statement,” judges said. The court was packed with activists cheering the decision.
The case was brought two months ago by a student at the University of Botswana and supported by local and regional gay rights groups.
It comes just weeks after Kenya’s courts upheld its own laws that punish same-sex relations with up to 14 years in prison, after Kenyan human rights and LGBT organizations filed a petition.
Homosexuality has been a crime in Botswana since the late 1800s, when it was under British rule.
Section 164 of the country’s penal code, defines same-sex relations as “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”. The wording resembles that of the laws of many other former British colonies where homosexuality is illegal.
Judge Michael Leburu said anti-sodomy laws are a “British import” and were developed “without consultation of local peoples”, according to journalists tweeting from the courtroom.
Gay sex is punishable by death in parts of Nigeria, Somalia and Sundan; while offenders risk life prison sentences in Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda.
Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe and Cape Verde have abolished laws criminalizing gay relationships.
Earlier this year Angola adopted a new penal code which led to the decriminalization of same-sex relations and a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.