The decision by Botswana’s Minister of Justice to suspend the debate on a contentious bill aimed at decriminalising homosexuality has been met with approval from the country’s leading LGBTIQ+ rights group.
If passed, the bill would remove sections 164 (a) and (c) of the Penal Code of Botswana that outlaw homosexuality, in line with the Botswana Court of Appeal’s landmark ruling on 29 November 2021, declaring these provisions unconstitutional.
However, the bill has faced opposition from religious leaders and politicians, who have responded with a wave of homophobic moral panic. This opposition has led to several protests against the decriminalisation of homosexuality, with demands for the matter to be decided through a national referendum.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Machana Shamukuni announced that the parliamentary debate on the bill would be paused, at least for the moment. He emphasised the need for further consultation on the legislation
“I seek to ensure that the views and concerns of all stakeholders regarding the interpretation of the constitution are taken into account,” Shamukuni told MPs.
LGBTIQ+ rights group LEGABIBO welcomed the minister’s decision to halt the debate, asserting that both the bill and a debate on decriminalising homosexuality were unnecessary and divisive.
“We are pleased that he has carefully listened to LEGABIBO and other members of the public, particularly legal academics and lawyers experienced in constitutional law issues,” said the organisation in a media statement.
It argued that allowing Parliament to debate whether or not to delete laws that have already been invalidated by the courts would be a violation of the principle of the rule of law in Botswana.
In applauding the minister’s decision, LEGABIBO emphasised the significance of an independent judiciary and the crucial separation of powers in a democratic society.
“Political leaders should not allow themselves to be threatened or coerced into violating the rule of law through votes for or against during national or other elections,” stated the group.
“This would have been unprecedented in Botswana, and we extend our thanks to the Honourable Minister for listening to the voice of reason. We do not expect him to reintroduce the same bill in the future,” added LEGABIBO.
Amidst these ongoing developments, LEGABIBO called on Botswana’s LGBTIQ+ community to remain calm as the organisation engages with relevant stakeholders.