Namibian court strikes down law criminalising same-sex relationships

Namibia's high court struck down colonial-era laws criminalising same-sex relationships, declaring them unconstitutional.


A top Namibian court on Friday struck down the African country’s colonial-era laws criminalising same-sex relationships, in a verdict hailed as “historic” by rights groups.

The high court in the capital, Windhoek, declared the crimes of “sodomy” and “unnatural sexual offences” as “unconstitutional and invalid” in its ruling on the case brought by a local LGBTQ activist.

“We are not persuaded that in a democratic society such as ours… it is reasonably justifiable to make an activity criminal just because a segment, maybe a majority, of the citizenry consider it to be unacceptable,” the judges wrote.

The judgement overturns rarely enforced laws dating back to 1927, which Namibia inherited from the colonial era but maintained after gaining independence from South Africa in 1990.

“Because of this decision, I no longer feel like a criminal on the run in my own country simply because of who I am,” Friedel Dausab, the activist who brought the case, said in a statement.

“It is a beautiful day for our democracy, our country and our constitution,” he added to AFP.

London-based Human Dignity Trust, a non-profit organisation that supported the legal case, called the ruling “historic”, saying it struck down laws that enabled stigma and discrimination.

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“LGBT Namibians can now look to a brighter future,” said its chief executive, Tea Braun.

Photos shared online by local rights group Equal Namibia showed people inside the courtroom hugging after the verdict was handed down.

Dozens of activists stood outside holding placards and banners reading “Decolonise-MySexuality” and “Get the Law out of my love life”.

‘Significant victory’

The ruling represents the latest court victory for the Namibian LGBTQ community but comes amid a wider pushback against its rights in southern Africa.

Namibia has seen a flurry of cases on the rights of same-sex couples to marry, become parents and immigrate in recent years.

Last year, the Supreme Court said that same-sex marriages contracted abroad between Namibian citizens and foreign spouses should be recognised.

But that ruling enraged social conservatives in the sparsely populated, largely Christian nation, a popular tourist destination rich in wildlife and natural attractions.

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In response to it, lawmakers approved new legislation to ban same-sex marriage and punish its supporters. The law is waiting ratification from the president.

The United Nations AIDS programme, UNAIDS, said the latest ruling marked a “significant victory for equality and human rights”.

“This decision… is a powerful step towards a more inclusive Namibia,” said Anne Githuku-Shongwe, UNAIDS regional director for East and Southern Africa.

“The colonial-era common law that criminalised same-sex sexual relations perpetuated an environment of discrimination and fear, often hindering access to essential healthcare services for LGBTQ+ individuals.”

While a handful of African countries have legalised same-sex relationships, South Africa remains the sole African nation which allows gay marriage, legalised in 2006.

Legal efforts to improve LGBTQ rights have drawn protests also in neighbouring Botswana and Malawi over the past year.

In Namibia, the high court has jurisdiction over constitutional matters. Its decisions can be appealed before the Supreme Court.

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– By: © Agence France-Presse

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