The fight for gay rights in Mauritius

It was the writer Mark Twain, who said, “Mauritius was made first and then heaven was copied after Mauritius.” Boy, was he right! The tropical paradise is one of Africa’s wealthiest tourist destinations and is one of the world’s top luxury places to visit.

It’s clear why over 100,000 British visitors go every year. Yet for some LGBTQIA+ people, it holds an unknown law that threatens the freedom of the community. An island where gay men still live with the consequences of British colonisation. Various countries across Africa and southern Asia still have harmful anti-homosexuality laws in place that were first introduced under British rule. The republic of Mauritius gained independence from British rule in 1968.

Homosexuality is prohibited in Mauritius and LGBTQIA+ life in Mauritius still remains fairly discreet, it is important to know that ‘sodomy’ is still illegal and punishable with a maximum sentence of up to 5 years.

In 2018, The Republic of Mauritius was forced to cancel its gay pride event due to concerns of safety from anti-gay rights campaigners, to which some were quoting section 250 of the Mauritian Criminal Code Act of 1838, which outlaws sodomy.

The Law in Mauritius violates individual constitutional rights and freedoms which breaches the island’s equal opportunities act, which bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

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Same-sex relationships are a crime in more than 70 countries around the world, almost half of them in Africa. But recent changes in laws within other countries have encouraged individual petitioners to challenge section 250. 

Abdool Ridwan Firaas Ah Seek originally brought a legal case last year challenging the constitutionality of Section 250 – a colonial-era law from when Mauritius was ruled by Britain. According to an unofficial translation of this section “Any person who is guilty of the crime sodomy… shall be liable to penal servitude for a term not exceeding 5 years.”

The case had its first hearing by the Supreme Court in October 2019 and another hearing to appear this February 2020.

Mr Ah Seek’s legal case is being supported by the Collectif Arc-En-Ciel (CAEC), a human rights organisation in Mauritius working to improve the lives of LGBTQIA+ people.

Mauritian activist Najeeb Fokeerbux, Founder of the LGBTQIA+ group, Young Queer Alliance has addressed that he too will be campaigning to overturn the law and will work alongside Mr Ah Seek’s on this case. The Young Queer Alliance is s a non-governmental, youth-led and a political organisation dedicated to advance equal human rights of LGBTQIA+ people in the Republic of Mauritius. Supported by various local and regional partners and philanthropies.

Mauritian activists claim that the law is rarely enforced with sentencing, although it is still illegal and still active and has other impacts on the community.

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Mauritians citizens are an eclectic mix of French, Indian, Creole and Chinese people, renowned for their hospitality and their acceptance of cultural differences. So why they live with such strict laws is frankly disappointing, outdated and violates human rights to the local people and their overall tolerance to people.

I myself am of Mauritian descent and an active member of the LGBTQIA+ community, born and living in Brighton, UK.

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I have taken personal offence to the law and will be working alongside the activists to help decriminalise homosexuality in Mauritius by helping overturn this law. This outdated law threatens our very own freedom of being who we are and where we travel to and how we live our lives.

Over the next few weeks, I aim to meet fellow activist Fokeerbux and his colleagues at La MariPosa Hotel, Grand Rivière Noir situated south-west of the island.

This venue prides itself as one of the few hotels that promotes themselves confidently as LGBTQIA+ friendly on the island.

La MariPosa Hotel will be the meeting venue where myself and fellow activists will hold discussions and where people from the LGBTQIA+ community can talk openly about stigmas and prejudice to which they have experienced.

We will discuss what amendments have been made so far, the challenging of article 250, the human rights violations which LGBTQIA+ people are exposed to and more.

The Republic of Mauritius is such a beautiful island – but when we look at the beauty around this, it is shadowed by the old colonial laws, which has no place in our time now.

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Policies have been changed and laws similar to this one have been overturned in other countries such as Angola, Seychelles, Botswana and India. This has been inspirational and motivational for the LGBTQIA+ community in Mauritius.

Let’s endeavour that 2020 brings Mauritius into a place that promotes equality, diversity, inclusion but more importantly equal rights for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Mathew Parr will be in Mauritius from mid -January 2020 for 1 month, and he will be writing and filming his full experience including discussions with fellow activists.

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