The criminalization of homosexuality around the world remains common today. According to the BBC, as of May 2021, 69 countries still criminalize homosexuality, and more importantly, half of these states are in Africa. In 2019, however, the High Court of the country deemed the law criminalizing homosexuality unconstitutional, which received broad international attention and support. This law, according to Africa News, had been in place since 1965, for 54 years, and those found guilty of being homosexual could spend up to seven years in prison. Despite not being as harsh as other countries, it was still an obstacle to the human rights of the gay community in Botswana. However, the government decided to appeal the decision, which led to a court battle that took a total of two months, beginning in October of this year.
On Monday, however, the court decided to uphold its initial ruling in 2019, effectively decriminalizing homosexuality in the country. This is a second major victory to the gay community in Botswana, and arguably to the community across the African region. Specifically, the judges in the High Court decided to decriminalize homosexuality and uphold their decision since it violated the constitutional right of those in the LGBT community to “dignity, liberty, privacy and equality,” according to Reuters. With this decision, it is safe to say that, legally, the rights of the gay community in Botswana will be upheld in the foreseeable future, seeing as it was appealed to the highest court, with no other legal recourse to undo the ruling. Not only that, but this may even lead to similar results in countries around the region that still ban homosexuality. On the other hand, leaders in African countries that ban homosexuality may see this news with fear, leading to more strict crackdowns that could restrict the rights of the gay community in these countries further. However, speculation aside, it is exciting to see that, even in a conservative country that only two years ago was further limiting human rights, change is possible. Not only that, but even when faced with a challenge to decriminalization, the judicial system in the country upheld its decision, taking the side of the law and human rights.
Therefore, the decision on Monday is a massive success for human rights and gay rights activists in Botswana and in the African region. The decision treated members of the LGBT community justly, treating them as equals under the law rather than allowing biases to take precedent in a monumental ruling and subsequent appeal. With this ruling, it remains to be seen whether countries that criminalize homosexuality will follow the path of Botswana or will take the opposite route and become even more strict and oppressive towards their LGBT communities. Ultimately though, before becoming concerned with the future of gay rights in Africa, it is important to see this event for what it is: a major victory for human rights, as well as a relief for the LGBT community in Botswana who will be able to love without fear of imprisonment or punishment.
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