Botswana: Parliament must ignore protests and repeal gay ban


Church groups in Botswana have held marches to condemn homosexuality as unchristian and dangerous to children (Photos: Facebook)

The Parliament of Botswana has been urged to proceed with the government’s commitment to repeal the criminalisation of homosexuality, despite protests against LGBTQ+ rights by religious groups.

The government plans to introduce an amendment bill to repeal sections 164(a) and (c) of the Penal Code, which currently prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity. This bill is a response to the Botswana Court of Appeal’s landmark ruling on 29 November, 2021, declaring these provisions unconstitutional.

Court Ruling and Right to Privacy

The Court of Appeal found that criminalising individuals based on their sexual orientation perpetuates societal stigma, discrimination, hate, and violence.

The court also held that the right to privacy extends to “protection of the right to make personal choices about one’s lifestyle, choice of partner, or intimate relationships among a host of others.”

Additionally, the court noted that criminalisation incentivises intrusive behaviour and violates the public interest and the essence of Botswana’s culture.

Following the court’s judgment, Attorney General Advocate Abraham Keetshabe confirmed the government’s commitment to comply with the Court of Appeal’s decision. Keetshabe stated that “it is only through compliance with court decisions that democracy and the rule of law in this country can continue to flourish”

Calls for Debate Misguided

Despite the court ruling, some pastors and politicians in Botswana have called for a debate or a referendum on the amendment bill.

Churches have held protest marches with placards bearing slogans like “protect our children against homosexuals” and protect our nation”. Facebooks group vilifying LGBTQ+ people have also been set up to oppose the bill with many proclaiming that the so-called “homosexual lifestyle” is unchristian.

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which supported LGBTQ+ rights group LEGABIBO in the landmark court case, has criticised these calls as misguided and without substance.

“Such calls ignore the fact that the court has already ruled the criminalisation of same-sex sex to be contrary to the Constitution, the supreme law of our country,” pointed out SALC’s LGBTIQ+ Program Manager, Anna Mmolai-Chalmers.

SALC emphasised that the court’s responsibility in reviewing unconstitutional laws is essential for minority groups whose perspectives may not be adequately represented in Parliament.

Protection of Rights and Rule of Law:

The organisation called on Botswana’s legislators to reject the wave of hate and moral panic, which it warned is spreading across the African continent.

Mmolai-Chalmers pointed out that the proposed amendment bill is not about religious or moral beliefs but about upholding the constitutional rights of all citizens.

“The bill is about the dignity of the person and not about the will of the majority. The bill is further about acknowledging the rule of law and the decisions of the judiciary. There is no need for debate, uphold the Court of Appeal decision and pass the bill!” Mmolai-Chalmers said.

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