The recently appointed President of Botswana has been applauded for publicly speaking out in support of LGBTI people. Now he should take the step to promote repeal of Botswana’s criminalizing laws
In April Botswana’s new President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, took office, heralding hope for the furthering of human and civil rights in the country. Launching the country’s 2018 commemorations of the 16 days of activism against violence on women and children, in the capital Gaborone, he implored on the the crowd to remember all those victims and communities vulnerable to violence and abuse.
As reported by Mamba Online:
“There are also many people of same sex relationships in this country, who have been violated and have also suffered in silence for fear of being discriminated,” Masisi told the crowd. “Just like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected.”
This is indeed a groundbreaking statement as seldom do we hear such affirming statements from leadership on the continent of Africa when it comes to LGBTQI rights, but rather hate, myth and the promotion of further criminalization.
Mamba Online goes no to note that this statement follows the recent sharing on social media of a video in which a transgender woman was beaten and abused by a mob in Gaborone, the capital.
The organisation Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (Legabibo) welcomed the president’s comment and thanked him for “your leadership and particularly for this acknowledgment you made in your 16 Days of Activism Against violence commemorative speech.”
“We are incredibly grateful to hear our sitting President speak openly and publicly on the need to protect those in same-sex relationships who have been violated. We are pleased that you named aloud the violence that members of our community suffer in their daily lives,” said Legabibo.
The group called on Masisi to work to decriminalise consensual same-sex relationships in Botswana, “because this unjust law is the basis of violence directed at members of our community.”
Currently the old Colonial Penal Code in Botswana, though rarely followed in recent times, allows for the LGBTI people to be prosecuted for so called “unnatural offences” and “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” Penalties include seven years in prison.
Legabibo also urged Masisi to address the difficulties faced by transgender and gender non-conforming Batswana in changing gender markers in their identity documents as well as the issue of religious leaders who “fuel hatred toward LGBTI persons.”
The group further called on the president to make a statement to all civil servants “that LGBTI people are citizens of this country, and like all other citizens, cannot be denied services available to the general public.”
Last week we reported that the Botswana High Court announced that after a long delay it will finally hear a landmark case on the decriminalization of homosexuality in March next year.
There is no question that in countries such as Botswana decriminalization must precede the quest for same-sex and gender identity rights. Criminalization seems to give license to violence. When a President calls out the violence in such an assertive manner, it is tantamount to support for the repeal of the antiquated and onerous Penal Code that serves to criminalize the community he seeks to protect. Would it not be wonderful if the President could get ahead of the pending Case in the High Court and launch a repeal of that draconian legislation that serves to prop up the dehumanization of gays and lesbians and the violence perpetrated on the LGBTQI community.
BY MELANIE NATHAN, Director of African human rights Coalition – and a mom.
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