High Court in Botswana Rules to Decriminalize Same-Sex Relations


11 June 2019

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Maria Sjödin, commsteam@outrightinternational.org, +1 (917) 415-5022

High Court in Botswana Rules to Decriminalize Same-Sex Relations

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(Gaborone, Botswana) Today, on 11 June 2019, a full bench of the High Court of Botswana ruled to shake remaining relics of its colonial past and to strike down section 164(a) and (c), and section 167 of the penal code which criminalize same-sex relations, or “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”, and prescribe a prison sentence of up to 7 years for those found guilty. The court unanimously ruled that the provisions are discriminatory, against public interest and unconstitutional.

In particular, judges stated that "a democratic society is one that embraces tolerance, diversity and open-mindedness" as well as highlighting that discrimination serves to hold back not only LGBTIQ people, but society as a whole by stating that "societal inclusion is central to ending poverty and fostering shared prosperity."

With this decision, the court has continued its record of trailblazing recognition of the human rights of LGBTIQ people in the country. In 2014 the High Court ruled that the government had to allow the registration of LEGABIBO, the country’s leading LGBTIQ organization. In 2017, in two separate cases – one concerning a trans man, and the other a trans woman - the High Court ruled that the refusal of the National Registration to change the gender marker of trans people violates their rights to dignity, privacy, freedom of expression, equal protection under the law.

Katlego K Kolanyane-Kesupile trans ARTivist from Botswana, and OutRight Action International’s Religion Fellow commented:

“I'm happy to see that the courts of law in Botswana have opted to support the dignity of Batswana by removing these clauses which render people criminals merely for whom they love. I am proud that this has happened in my lifetime, and look forward to educating Botswana to fully understand what this means to current and future generations of LGBTIQ people and their families. Justice will always shine brighter in the light than hate.”

With this ruling Botswana joins Angola, Mozambique, India, Trinidad and Tobago and other countries around the world which have also recently struck down similar colonial-era laws. Unfortunately, there are numerous countries which still maintain this discriminatory colonial-era relic, including places such as Singapore, Sri Lanka, Uganda and, disappointingly also Kenya, where the High Court ruled last month to maintain its barbaric law.

Same-sex relations are a crime in around 68 countries. Today that number has decreased by one. This achievement is not only testament to the resilience and perseverance of the LGBTIQ movement in Botswana, but also a source of inspiration for LGBTIIQ movements across the continent and the world where such laws are still in effect. We commend the High Court of Botswana for upholding international human rights standards and taking this historic decision, and urge authorities in Botswana to swiftly take the necessary steps to ensure full implementation of the ruling, so that it translates into real change for LGBTQ people,” said Jessica Stern, Executive Director, OutRight Action International.



Every day around the world, LGBTIQ people’s human rights and dignity are abused in ways that shock the conscience. The stories of their struggles and their resilience are astounding, yet remain unknown—or willfully ignored—by those with the power to make change. OutRight Action International, founded in 1990 as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, works alongside LGBTIQ people in the Global South, with offices in six countries, to help identify community-focused solutions to promote policy for lasting change. We vigilantly monitor and document human rights abuses to spur action when they occur. We train partners to expose abuses and advocate for themselves. Headquartered in New York City, OutRight is the only global LGBTIQ-specific organization with a permanent presence at the United Nations in New York that advocates for human rights progress for LGBTIQ people.