The Long, Successful Fight to Decriminalise Same-Sex Relations in Botswana

Event with Caine Youngman, LEGABIBO in Berlin, July 18 2019

Foto: Hirschfeld-Eddy-Stiftung: Felix Reimer, Caine Youngman, Sarah KohrtThe GIZ Rainbow Network and Hirschfeld-Eddy-Foundation cordially invited to a talk and discussion with Caine Youngman, human rights activist from Botswana and advocacy manager for “Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals of Botswana” (LEGABIBO). In June 2019, the High Court of Botswana declared unconstitutional a colonial law criminalising consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The ruling came after years of legal action, advocacy and community-building by LEGABIBO, Botswana’s largest LGBTI organisation, and its allies.

 

Caine Youngman, Botswana human rights activist and LEGABIBO’s advocacy manager in conversation with Sarah Kohrt, Project lead LGBTI platform human rights at Hirschfeld-Eddy-Foundation.

A quick review of the event by Felix Reimer, GIZ Rainbow Network:

Through Strategic Litigation to Legalisation? The Long, Successful Fight to Decriminalise Same-Sex Relations in Botswana

We had a great event with Caine Youngman, LGBTI activist from Botswana, in Berlin on July 18. Caine is the advocacy manager for the “Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana” (LEGABIBO​). You may remember that last month, the LGBTI community in Botswana won a historic legal victory to decriminalise same-sex sexual conduct. 

This was a first for the GIZ Rainbow Network and I’m very happy with how it came together. It was a joint event with Hirschfeld-Eddy-Stiftung, the foundation initiated by the German gay and lesbian association LSVD to support the global fight for LGBTI equality. 

Here’s some key messages I took away from Caine’s talk:

It takes a village (and more…)

LEGABIBO’s victory came years of working with religious, tribal, community, political and social leaders. That’s the idea behind “strategic litigation” – use the courts to protect your legal rights but also build popular support for your cause (or at least weaken the opposition).
 
One thing that worked well in Botswana: engaging the parents and families of LGBTI people. This PFLAG group had the experience and seniority to reach people that refused to LGBTI activists or even their own gay and lesbian relatives.
 
LEGABIBO also successfully worked with trade unions to have sexual orientation and gender identity included in Botswana’s first law against discrimination in the workplace. The two groups strengthened each other’s case in the negotiations with the government.

It takes time

The first decrim case in Botswana was brought over 15 years ago, and the fight is still not fully won: The government appealed last month’s ruling. (LEGABIBO is very optimistic to win before the highest court later this year.)
 
In the meantime, LEGABIBO fought for over a decade to be recognised as an NGO by the government. They achieved this in 2017 (through another historic ruling). It paved the way for engaging officially with the government and other organisations in Botswana.

It takes the right kind of donor

One of the main lines used against LGBTI people is that homosexuality is a “foreign concept.” It was important to LEGABIBO to be seen as leading the fight for decriminalisation and equality in their own country – as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and citizens.
 
Early in the decrim case, LEGABIBO declined support from a major international NGO because the latter wanted to run a “name-and-shame” campaign. The local LGBTI community felt that this would have backfired, and rejected the offer.
 
LEGABIBO was supported by international donors to run community-building and other activities. Their legal battle, however, received technical and financial support from other African civil society organisations (and no foreign state actors).

It takes facts

Caine stressed LEGABIBO’s ability to bring facts to the court. Over the years, they conducted research to make an evidence-based case that the criminalisation of same-sex conduct harmed the dignity, health and freedom of expression of Botswana’s LGBTI citizens. They conducted the research in partnership with the same organisations used by the Botswana government – and made it impossible for the government to dismiss it.

 Felix Reimer, GIZ Rainbow Network 

Weitere Artikel und Links:

  • Herzlichen Glückwunsch an die Organisation LEGABIBO Bahnbrechendes Urteil zur Entkriminalisierung aus Botsuana
  • Closing Space and the freedom of association — Video Message by Monica Tabengwa, Pan Africa ILGA on the LEGABIBO Botswana court case, other cases of freedom of association in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria and on the importance of the right to register
  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GIZ
  • Decriminalization: our guidelines for international support, Proposed by the Hirschfeld-Eddy Foundation

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