Supreme Court: Kenya erred in forbidding LGBT rights organizations from registering

In Nairobi, someone is sporting a rainbow flag

The Kenyan Supreme Court has ruled that the government erred in forbidding the gay community from registering a rights organization.

However, it also emphasized the fact that gay sex is still illegal.

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) was prevented from registering in 2013 by the nation's NGO board, which was found to be wrong by a three-to-two decision of the judges.

The Supreme Court is Kenya's highest court, so its decision cannot be overturned.

The judges concluded in their ruling that it would be unconstitutional to restrict the right to associate by denying registration of an association solely on the basis of the applicants' sexual orientation.

The decision is nevertheless bittersweet for Kenya's gay community. Sexual activity that "is against the order of nature" is prohibited by laws that were implemented during British colonial rule and is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Kenya's high court rejected a bid to strike down these laws in May 2019.

Eric Gitari, the former executive director of the NGLHRC, challenged the head of the Kenya NGO Coordination Board in 2013 after the latter denied him permission to apply to register an NGO with a name that contained the words gay or lesbian. This set off a 10-year legal battle that ended on Friday.

In 2015 at the High Court, in 2019 at the Court of Appeal, and finally in 2023, the judges reached favorable decisions.

Njeri Gateru, the current executive director of the NGLHRC, commented following the decision: "The Supreme Court's decision to uphold the decisions of the lower courts is a triumph for justice and human rights.

The decision reaffirms the spirit and intent of the Constitution, which protects all Kenyans and guarantees their rights, at a time when the LGBTIQ community in Kenya is protesting the rise in harassment and violence. ".

The decision was made at a time when Kenya has seen an increase in homophobic rhetoric.

Police have harassed members of the LGBTQI community, performed body checks to "prove" gay sex, and openly insulted them in public and on social media. Some claim that because they are gay, they have even been denied healthcare and kicked out of rental properties.

George Peter Kaluma, a member of parliament, announced in writing on the day of the verdict that he intended to introduce a bill that would sentence those found guilty of homosexuality or the promotion of it to life in prison.

Although it is arguable that Friday's Supreme Court decision renders moot any efforts to criminalize openly gay people with new laws, Mr. Kaluma can still mobilize MPs to lengthen the sentences for gay sex.

In the neighboring nation of Uganda, where Muslims held Friday prayers against homosexuality, it is also prohibited to have gay sex.

The prayers occur as homophobic sentiments in the nation have recently increased.

President Yoweri Museveni stated last week that homosexuality would not be accepted in Uganda and that the West should stop attempting to impose its values and "normalize" what it called "deviations."

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