Human rights groups have welcomed Friday’s Botswana High Court decision allowing the registration of that country’s LGBT rights organisation.
The court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the government to continue to refuse to recognise Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO).
The state had insisted that it could not register the group as the Constitution “does not recognise homosexuals” and because the organisation could be used for an “unlawful purpose.”
LEGABIBO argued, however, that the refusal was clearly discriminatory and violated its members’ right to freedom of association, assembly, and expression.
Wisely, Justice Terence Rannowane agreed, and ruled that, “the [objectives] of LEGABIBO as reflected in the society’s constitution are all ex facie lawful. They include carrying out political lobbying for equal rights and decriminalisation of same sex relationships.”
OUT, the Tshwane-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organisation, welcomed the ruling.
“The ruling is particularly significant within an African context as LGBT rights groups in a number of countries have been refused registration,” commented Johan Meyer, Health Manager at OUT. “This limits their ability to operate legitimately, to be recognised by and work with government entities and to raise funds.”
LGBT rights groups in other African countries such as Kenya, Mozambique and Uganda have also been refused registration by their governments.
Meyer added: “LEGABIBO’s victory is a victory for key democratic values. Attempting to stifle discussion, debate and openness only serves to diminish our shared humanity. Democracy is not just about allowing who and what we’re comfortable with, it’s a right for all of Africa’s citizens – no matter who they love.”
New York City-based Human Rights Watch agreed that the ruling was “a significant victory for the LGBT community, not only in Botswana but elsewhere in Africa.”
Said Monica Tabengwa, LGBT researcher at Human Rights Watch: “The Botswana High Court decision is a milestone in the fight for LGBT people’s right to equality under the law.”
Human Rights First, also based in New York City, applauded the court’s decision. “We urge the United States and the international community to support the work of African human rights defenders and civil society organisations, and to press the Botswana government to take the additional step of repealing its discriminatory laws,” said the group’s Shawn Gaylord.
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.