Namibia considers scrapping colonial-era gay sex ban

29 May 2021 - 14:07
By Kim Harrisberg
Rights campaigners said that while convictions were relatively rare, the fact that the law remained on the statutes perpetuated discrimination against the LGBT+ community and meant gay men lived in fear of arrest.
Image: Loren Elliott/Reuters Rights campaigners said that while convictions were relatively rare, the fact that the law remained on the statutes perpetuated discrimination against the LGBT+ community and meant gay men lived in fear of arrest.

Namibia could soon scrap a colonial-era law that criminalises gay sex between men, the justice minister said on Friday, calling the legislation "outdated and discriminatory".

The law is rarely enforced in the Southern African country and is among several dozen laws that the government will consider abolishing following recommendations by a reform commission.

"The LGBTQI community are human beings and we must not allow them being excluded from the bouquet of rights enunciated in our constitution," Justice Minister Yvonne Dausab told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"This sodomy law is outdated and discriminatory ... All Namibians should enjoy life, dignity, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," she said, adding that the cabinet was expected to discuss the recommendations at its next meeting.

There were 115 reported cases under the law between 2003 and 2019, according to the report by the Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC), which works to repeal outdated legislation dating from South African colonial-rule.

Rights campaigners said that while convictions were relatively rare, the fact that the law remained on the statutes perpetuated discrimination against the LGBT+ community and meant gay men lived in fear of arrest.

"The fact that the law even exists leaves gay men feeling stigmatised, ostracised and marginalised," said Omar van Reenen, co-founder of LGBT+ group the Namibia Equal Rights Movement.

"These laws were written by colonialists and imposed on the Namibian people ... the whole narrative of homosexuality being a Western import is false, homophobia is the Western import," he added.

The law allows police to use "deadly force" when arresting men suspected of having sex with other men, and they can do so without a warrant.

It does not mention gay sexual relations between women or ban same-sex relationships.

According to the reform commission, the law breaches the constitutional and international rights of LGBT+ people in Namibia, such as the right to dignity and protection from discrimination.

It said protection from non-consensual sex is enforced through other Acts, making the law redundant.

Van Reenen said his group would follow the reform process closely as it monitors other ongoing legal cases related to recognition of same-sex marriages and the citizenship of children born through surrogacy to same-sex couples.

"We will keep up the pressure until we are all equal before the law," he said.

The article was originally published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly.