Mauritius' Supreme Court decriminalises same-sex relations: a milestone for LGBTQ rights in Africa

The threats faced by the LGBTQ+ community in African countries are complex and multifaceted, and there is no single main reason for these challenges. However, several interconnected factors contribute to the discrimination and threats faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in many African nations:

The first of all could be deeply related to Cultural and Religious Beliefs: In many African societies, cultural and religious beliefs shape social norms and attitudes. These beliefs often emphasise traditional family structures and strict gender roles, leading to the stigmatisation of LGBTQ+ identities and relationships seen as deviating from these norms.

The second one might be strongly related with Colonial-era laws and values that have had a lasting impact on many African countries. Some anti-LGBTQ+ laws that exist today are remnants of colonial-era legislation, which were often imposed by old European powers.

Nowadays, many African countries lack legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. Laws criminalising same-sex relationships, often inherited from colonial times, are still enforced in some nations, subjecting LGBTQ+ individuals to persecution and discrimination.

The third factor is based on social pressure, stigmatisation and discrimination: LGBTQ+ individuals face significant social stigma and discrimination in their daily lives. This can manifest in various ways, such as family rejection, employment discrimination, and violence.

In the fourth place we have political opportunism. Some politicians use anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and policies for political gain, framing LGBTQ+ rights as a threat to traditional values, marginalising even more the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ individuals often struggle to find safe spaces and support networks. This isolation can make them more vulnerable to discrimination and violence.

Misinformation and lack of awareness about LGBTQ+ issues contribute to prejudice and discrimination. Comprehensive sex education and public awareness campaigns can help combat this issue.

Some African countries have faced pressure from international organisations and governments advocating for LGBTQ+ rights. This has led to backlash and the perception of LGBTQ+ rights as a foreign imposition.

It’s important to note that the situation varies widely from one African country to another. Some nations have made progress in recognising LGBTQ+ rights, while others continue to enact and enforce repressive laws. The challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community in Africa are part of a larger global struggle for equality and acceptance, and progress is often slow and incremental.

That is why a groundbreaking decision, the Supreme Court of Mauritius has struck down a colonial-era law that criminalised same-sex relations. This landmark ruling sets Mauritius apart from a recent trend in some African countries, like Uganda, which has passed stringent anti-LGBTQ laws.

Here, we delve into the significance of this legal victory for LGBTQ rights in Mauritius and its broader implications for the continent.

The overturning of an outdated law

The Mauritian Supreme Court’s ruling, handed down on Wednesday, declared section 250 of the Mauritian criminal code unconstitutional. This law, dating back to 1898 during British colonial rule, had criminalised same-sex relations in the Indian Ocean island nation. The Court’s decision highlighted that Section 250 was a relic of colonial history and did not reflect indigenous Mauritian values.

A relief for LGBTQ advocates

The ruling was met with relief and jubilation by LGBTQ advocates in Mauritius. Jean-Daniel Wong, the manager of the Arc-en-Ciel Collective, the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the country, expressed his satisfaction. He acknowledged the shadow that Section 250 had cast over the LGBTQ community and emphasised that there is still work to be done. The group’s next goals include achieving legal recognition for transgender individuals, legalising same-sex unions, and combating hate crimes based on sexuality.

Public health and equal rights

UNAIDS, the United Nations agency dedicated to combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic, hailed the ruling as a significant step forward for public health and LGBTQ rights. The decriminalisation of same-sex relations is crucial for public health because it encourages safe sex practices and access to healthcare services for all, regardless of sexual orientation.

Contrasting trends in Africa

Mauritius’ progressive step stands in stark contrast to recent developments in other African countries. Notably, Uganda passed one of the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ laws in May, imposing the death penalty for some same-sex acts. This move triggered international outcry and led to some donors cutting aid to Uganda. Unfortunately, lawmakers in several other African countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, and South Sudan, have been considering similar legislation.

The debate over western values

Supporters of anti-LGBTQ laws often argue that same-sex relations are unnatural and that they resist what they perceive as the imposition of Western values. However, human rights groups emphasise that these laws were imposed by former colonial powers and do not represent indigenous African values.

The Supreme Court of Mauritius’ decision to decriminalise same-sex relations represents a significant victory for LGBTQ rights in Africa. It signals progress toward greater equality, respect, and public health leaving behind old colonial thoughts and impositions. 

This ruling sets a positive example for other countries in the region, encouraging a shift towards more inclusive and empathic societies. 

“All mankind… being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his/her/them life, health, liberty or possession” – John Locke – philosopher and medical doctor. 

Cynthia Cortés Castillo, Digital Marketing Executive

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