Botswana top court hears homosexuality appeal

The country's High Court in 2019 ruled in favour of campaigners seeking to strike down prison sentences for same-sex relationships, declaring them unconstitutional.

Activists carry a rainbow flag outside the Botswana High Court on 12 October 2021 where they gathered to listen to the court proceedings as the goverment of Botswana appeals against the Botswana High Court ruling to decriminalise homosexuality. Picture: Monirul Bhuiyan/AFP

GABORONE - Botswana's Court of Appeal on Tuesday started hearing a government attempt to overturn a landmark ruling that decriminalised homosexuality.

The country's High Court in 2019 ruled in favour of campaigners seeking to strike down prison sentences for same-sex relationships, declaring them unconstitutional.

The judgment was hailed internationally as a major victory for gay rights in the conservative Botswana.

But government wants the ruling overturned because it believes that courts have no jurisdiction to decriminaliase homosexuality.

"The court is not in a position to make such a finding," Sidney Pilane appearing for the government said.

"This is a policy matter. This can only be assessed by parliament."

Pilane bluntly told the court sitting in the capital Gaborone that "if gay rights were unconstitutional in the past they remain unconstitutional today".

Under the southern African country's 1965 penal code, homosexuality was punishable by a jail term of up to seven years.

But on June 11 2019, High Court Judge Michael Elburu declared "the time has come that private, same sexuality must be decriminalised."

Botswana is among a handful of countries in Africa, where social codes are often conservative, to have decriminalised homosexuality.

Others are Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola and the Seychelles.

South Africa is the sole nation on the African continent to allow gay marriage, which it legalised in 2006.

The Court of Appeal is expected to issue in a ruling in a matter of weeks after it wraps up the hearing.

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device.