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Kenyan court rules against scrapping anti-gay law

Inside the packed courtroom, gay couples held hands and waved rainbow flags as the lengthy judgement was read out.

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Kenyan court rules on anti-gay law as 'unconstitutional' amidst dismay

Kenya’s high court refused to scrap laws criminalising homosexuality on Friday in a blow to the gay community.

Gay rights organisations had hoped Kenya would follow in the footsteps of countries like Angola, or those further afield like India, and end decades-old laws which criminalise gay sex. 

But three years after they filed their petition, the high court ruled that the laws in question were not unconstitutional, leaning heavily on concerns about traditional culture and family values in Kenya.

“We find the impugned sections (of the penal code) are not unconstitutional. We hereby decline the relief sought and dismiss the consolidated petition,” said Roselyne Aburili, presiding over a three-judge bench.

Inside the packed courtroom, gay couples held hands and waved rainbow flags as the lengthy judgement was read out.

After the ruling, they embraced and wiped away tears, and others wrapped themselves in flags.

“We have to fight for our rights. This is who we are,” said Jordan Zeus, a gay Ugandan man who escaped persecution there to seek refuge in Kenya, urging activists to keep fighting. 

In a remark prompting gasps, Aburili said there was “no conclusive scientific proof that LGBTQ people are born that way”.

Campaigners had asked the court to scrap two sections of the penal code that criminalise homosexuality.

One section states that anyone who has “carnal knowledge… against the order of nature” can be imprisoned for 14 years. 

Another provides for a five-year jail term for “indecent practices between males”.

Petitioners argued these laws infringed on their privacy and dignity, fomented discrimination against homosexuals and prevented them from gaining access to healthcare and justice.

The court dismissed all of these arguments, saying the petitioners failed to provide sufficient evidence.

Aburili said that while rulings scrapping such laws around the world were “persuasive, they are not binding on this court”.

‘Step backward’ – 

A coalition of gay rights groups issued a statement expressing their “great distress” at the ruling, saying it “justifies the stigma, discrimination, and violence meted against Kenyans” in the LGBT community.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement the decision was “a step backward in the progress Kenya has made toward equality in recent years.”

The judges leaned heavily on section 45 sub-article 2 of the constitution, which states that “every adult has the right to marry a person of the opposite sex.”

She said decriminalising sex between members of the same sex would “contradict the express provisions” of that part of the constitution.

Aburili said it did not matter that the petitioners were not seeking the right to same-sex marriage, as decriminalisation would lead to “same-sex persons living together as couples.”

United Nations rights chief, Michelle Bachelet urged LGBT activists and their allies to keep fighting for equality. 

“Criminalizing acts targeting certain individuals based on who they are and whom they love is inherently discriminatory. It also sends a dangerous signal to broader society and encourages hostility and even violence against LGBT individuals,” Bachelet said in a statement.

Outside the court, a Christian group sang choir songs and held aloft banners declaring “God forbids it and we say no!” as dejected members of the LGBT community streamed past.

“We are not here to speak hate, but we are saying no. And even at the court of appeal, we will still be standing as the church of Jesus Christ saying no,” said Apostle Kathy Kageni, from the Sozo Church of God.

Friday’s verdict had been awaited by activists across Africa.

Twenty-eight out of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have laws penalising same-sex relationships, according to Neela Ghoshal, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) specialist in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

The death penalty is on the books, under Islamic sharia law, in Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria, although there have been no known executions in recent times. In southern Somalia, gay men are believed to have been put to death in territories ruled by the Al-Shabaab jihadist group.

Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles have scrapped anti-gay laws in recent years.

On the other hand, Chad and Uganda have introduced or toughened legislation.

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East Africa News & Stories

Collapsed wall kills street children in Uganda

Due to a heavy downpour part of the perimeter wall of the school gave way

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Six street children who were sleeping in a storm drain next to an elite school in the Ugandan capital have been killed after a wall fell on them, police said Monday.

“Due to a heavy downpour part of the perimeter wall of the school gave way, collapsed on the kids, killing six of them on the spot and two were injured,” Kampala’s deputy police spokesman Luke Owoyesigire said. 

“The police rescue team is on the scene to check if any person is buried under the debris.”

The spokesman said police were trying to establish the identities of the children and track down their families, adding that they had been sleeping in the storm drain for a while.

According to Owoyesigire, it was the second such incident recently, after five family members were killed last month as they slept in a mud and wattle house when a wall collapsed on them.

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Thousands rally in Bamako to demand end to massacres

Ethnic tensions in the centre of the country have surged since a jihadist group led by preacher Amadou Koufa emerged in 2015.

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Thousands of Malians demonstrated in Bamako Friday to demand an end to a series of massacres in the centre of the country.

Police said 3,000 attended the rally in the capital while organisers said 5,000 turned out to urge an end to a spike in violence which has led UN peacekeepers to declare a state of alert.

Ethnic tensions in the centre of the country have surged since a jihadist group led by preacher Amadou Koufa emerged in 2015. 

The group recruit mainly from among the Fulani – primarily cattle breeders and traders – and they have clashed with the Dogon and Bambara — traditionally sedentary farmers who have formed their own self-defence militias.

There has been a swathe of mass killings this year. New Year’s Day saw 39 Fulani butchered in Koulogon, a village in the central Mopti region while 160 more were slaughtered on March 23 in Ogossagou then 35 more on June 9 in Sobane Da.

Fresh ethnic violence erupted this week leading to 41 further deaths in the ethnic Dogo villages of Gangafani and Yoro — the latest in a cycle of tit-for-tat attacks between the warring communities despite the army sending in troops.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who rejects the idea of an “inter-ethnic conflict,” on Thursday named former interim president Dioncounda Traore as high representative for the region to report back to him.

‘Too much blood’

The Red Cross, meanwhile, said Friday that some 2,800 people fleeing the violence had taken refuge in the town of Bandiagara in the east of Mopti region where aid including utensils and bedding had been distributed.

At Ouenkoro market on the border with Burkina Faso, local politician Moussa Dembele was abducted by armed men, said mayor Harouna Sankare.

He said five men blindfolded Dembele and took him across the border.

Friday’s demonstration was organised by a youth association demanding that militia be disarmed and for people to “say no to hate” whatever their ethnicity.

“Too much blood has been spilled. It has to stop or there will be no life left in the centre of Mali,” said one demonstrator, Habitatou Diallo.

UN peacekeeping chief in Mali Jean-Pierre Lacroix, visiting Mali on Friday, said in a statement “the situation has reached what one could call an alert level with the dreadful massacres of the past few weeks and days.

“We are ready to increase our efforts to support Malian efforts” to stem the unrest, he added, while stressing that “there has to be a Malian solution.”

The UN Security Council is due to examine next Thursday whether to extend the UN mission (MINUSMA) in Mali.

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Over 500 vultures die in Botswana after eating elephant carcasses

Most of the birds, 468 of them, were white-backed vultures, which are classified as critically endangered species.

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More than 500 endangered vultures died of poisoning after eating the carcasses of three elephants killed by poachers in Botswana, the government said in a statement.

A total of 537 vultures, along with two tawny eagles, were found dead at the site in the north of the African country.

The Botswanan wildlife and national parks department did not say when the dead vultures had been found or why the three elephants were laced with poison after being killed.

But poachers are known to poison carcasses to target vultures as the birds circle in the sky and help rangers to track poaching activity.

Most of the birds, 468 of them, were white-backed vultures, which are classified as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list of threatened species.

Also among the dead were 17 white-headed vultures and 28 hooded vultures — also critically endangered.

“The poisoning was believed to have been caused by lacing of three poached elephant carcasses with a poisonous chemical,” the wildlife department said.

Teams decontaminated the area and samples were taken for laboratory analysis.

Conservationists last week warned of surging elephant poaching in parts of Botswana and estimated nearly 400 were killed for their ivory tusks in 2017 and 2018.

The country recently sparked controversy by lifting its ban on hunting, saying it would help control a booming elephant population that was damaging farmers’ livelihoods.

In 2016, two lions and over 100 vultures in South Africa’s Kruger National Park died after eating a poisoned elephant carcass.

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