Decision of the Supreme Court is an historic moment in the fight for LGBTI+ equality in the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN) welcomes the decision of Mauritius’ Supreme Court, ruling that a law criminalising same-sex sexual activity between men is unconstitutional. We congratulate TCEN members Collectif Arc-en-Ciel and the Human Dignity Trust for securing this historic victory for LGBTI+ equality, which will echo across Africa and the wider Commonwealth.
The decision stems from a case brought by Abdool Ridwan (Ryan) Firaas Ah Seek in 2019, challenging the constitutionality of Section 250 of the Mauritian Criminal Code, a colonial era law which criminalised sodomy with up to five years’ imprisonment. The case was supported by TCEN members Collectif Arc-en-Ciel and the Human Dignity Trust.
In its judgment, the Court found that the law violated constitutional protections from discrimination based on a person’s sex. Highlighting the colonial nature of the law, the Court stated that, “Section 250 was not introduced into Mauritius to reflect any Mauritian values but was inherited as part of our colonial history from Britain. Its enactment was not the expression of domestic democratic will but was a course imposed on Mauritius and other colonies by British rule.”
TCEN Chair, Steve Letsike said, “We are overjoyed at the success achieved by our friends and colleagues at Collectif Arc-en-Ciel and the Human Dignity Trust and celebrate with them the historic decision of the Mauritian Supreme Court. Overturning this pernicious and discriminatory law is another step towards realising the dignity and equality of LGBTI+ people across the Commonwealth, where too many countries still criminalise our communities on the basis of colonial era laws.”
Abdool Ridwan (Ryan) Firaas Ah Seek, the plaintiff and current president of Collectif Arc-en-Ciel, said, “Receiving this judgment in my favour is an enormous relief. From today, as a citizen and a human being, I am now free to love whoever I want to without fear. Above all, it also means that the next generations can fully and freely embrace their sexuality without fear of being arrested. This victory is undoubtedly a major step towards the full inclusion of our community in Mauritian society.”
Téa Braun, Chief Executive of the Human Dignity Trust, commented: “This decision finally topples 185 years of state-sanctioned stigma against LGBT people in Mauritius and sends yet another important message to the remaining criminalising countries in Africa and beyond: these laws must go.”
The Court reiterated its decision in a parallel ruling in the case of Fookerbuxx & others v Mauritius brought by members of the Mauritian LGBTI+ organisation Young Queer Alliance.
Mauritius joins eleven other Commonwealth countries that have removed or repealed laws criminalising LGBTI+ people over the last decade. TCEN members have been closely involved in victories removing these colonial era laws in countries across the Commonwealth including in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Guyana, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles and Singapore.
The win is particularly significant, as it comes against a background of growing legal, political and physical threats to LGBTI+ people in the region, across the Commonwealth and globally. The success in Mauritius is in stark contrast to attempts, some successful, to further criminalise LGBTI+ people, limit the ability of our organisations to operate and to deny recognition to trans and gender diverse people.
The decision brings the number of countries that criminalises LGBTI+ people to 65, of which 31 are members of the Commonwealth. We call on all Commonwealth member states to work together to remove laws that continue to criminalise LGBTI+ people and to fully protect the rights of LGBTI+ people.