Members of LEGABIBO outside the Gaborone High Court today (Pic: Facebook)

In a major victory for equal rights, Botswana’s gay and lesbian rights organisation has won a court battle to be officially recognised as an NGO by the government.

Today, the Gaborone High Court ruled that the government must register the group LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana).

This comes after it was refused registration by the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs in 2012 because the ministry claimed that Botswana’s Constitution does not recognise homosexuals.

It also argued that it could not register any group that “is likely to be used for any unlawful purpose or any purpose prejudicial to or incompatible with peace, welfare or good order in Botswana.”

The case was brought by 20 individuals who argued that the refusal to register their organisation violated their constitutional rights, including their rights to freedom of association, freedom of expression, and equal protection of the law.

The court agreed and ruled that the government’s discriminatory action was indeed unconstitutional.

“We are overjoyed at the outcome of the case. 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,” commented Caine Youngman, LEGABIBO Coordinator.

“It has been a long and arduous journey towards recognition and we are relieved that the court has protected our rights,” he said.

Without legal recognition LEGABIBO faced numerous operational restrictions, including challenges in raising funds to sustain itself.

Anneke Meerkotter from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which supported the group’s legal battle, stated that the ruling “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.”

She added: “The judgement 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.”

While homosexuality is not specifically outlawed in Botswana, it could be prosecuted under Section 164 of the Penal Code that bars “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature,” with penalties including seven years in prison.

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