Thursday, June 13, 2019

Time for Swaziland to follow Botswana’s lead and decriminalise gay sex

Swaziland should follow the example of its near-neighbour Botswana and decriminalise gay sex.

The kingdom, also known as eSwatini, has much in common with Botswana. Both were protectorates of Great Britain and have laws relating to homosexuality dating back to that time. They became independent in the 1960s. Both countries have small but active fundamentalist Christian groups that today demonise LGBT people; the media largely ignore them and when they do report they are usually antagonistic. Both countries want people to believe that homosexuality is in some way ‘un-African’. Nevertheless, both want to believe that they are modern societies. Swaziland aims to become a ‘First-World’ country by 2022.

The Botswana High Court on Tuesday (11 June 2019) unanimously ruled in favour of decriminalising homosexuality. Judge Michael Elburu said, ‘Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalized.’

According to a BBC report, he added laws banning gay sex were ‘discriminatory’. He also said, ‘Sexual orientation is not a fashion statement. It is an important attribute of one’s personality.’

The Mail & Guardian newspaper in South Africa reported the court said, ‘Homosexuality is not unAfrican, but it is one other way Africans identify but have been repressed for many years.’

Commenting on the ruling, United Nations Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, said, ‘Criminalising homosexuality and other forms of sexual and gender diversity is one of the root causes of grave and pervasive human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It also violates international human rights law.’

He said legal provisions banning homosexuality were often remnants of colonial laws.

He added, ‘Countries around the world that still criminalise homosexuality and other forms of sexual orientation and gender identity must, without exception, take note of this recent advance in Botswana, which joins India and Angola in definitely abandoning this odious form of discrimination. All countries in which homosexuality or any other form of gender diversity remain criminalised must examine their legal frameworks in order to become fully compliant with international human rights law.’

The main difference between Botswana and Swaziland is that Botswana is a multi-party democracy and Swaziland is ruled by an absolute monarch King Mswati III, who has in the past reportedly said homosexuality is ‘satanic’. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections in Swaziland and there is very little opportunity for people in the kingdom to discuss how they might change the way they live.

Swaziland has a poor record on LGBT rights. In May 2016, Rock of Hope, which campaigns for equality in Swaziland, reported to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review on Swaziland that laws, social stigma and prejudice prevented LGBT organisations from operating freely.

The report, presented jointly with three South African-based organisations, stated, ‘In Swaziland sexual health rights of LGBT are not protected. There is inequality in the access to general health care, gender affirming health care as opposed to sex affirming health care and sexual reproductive health care and rights of these persons. HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care services continue to be hetero-normative in nature only providing for specific care for men born as male and women born as female, thereby leaving out trans men and women as an unprotected population which continues to render the state’s efforts at addressing the spread and incidence of HIV within general society futile.’

The report added, ‘LGBTs are discriminated and condemned openly by society. This is manifest in negative statements uttered by influential people in society e.g., religious, traditional and political leaders. Traditionalists and conservative Christians view LGBTs as against Swazi tradition and religion. There have been several incidents where traditionalists and religious leaders have issued negative statements about lesbians.   

‘Human rights abuses and violations against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex population continue to go undocumented, unreported, unprosecuted and not addressed.’

It added, ‘There is no legislation recognizing LGBTs or protecting the right to a non-heterosexual orientation and gender identity and as a result LGBT cannot be open about their orientation or gender identity for fear of rejection and discrimination.’

There are attempts to register the first LGBT group in Swaziland and on 22 June 2019 the second annual Pride parade is due to take place in the kingdom.

Richard Rooney

See also

Attempt to register first LGBTI group in Swaziland as preparations for second Pride parade underway

LGBT Pride film shows what it’s like to live with prejudice and ignorance in Swaziland

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