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GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations and African human rights experts on Tuesday urged African countries and others around the world to lift bans on lobbying for gay rights after Botswana's High Court ruled that a local group there had a right to be registered.
The ruling last Friday marked a rare victory for gays and lesbians in Africa, where homosexual activity is banned in 38 countries, and in 3 can bring the death penalty. Most also bar any campaigning on gays' behalf.
Around the world, a total of 79 countries ban homosexuality and many, including Russia which briefly during the 1990s took a more liberal stance, restrict any activity seen as promoting it.
"This seminal judgment by the Botswana High Court... reaffirms that everyone is entitled to the fundamental right to peacefully assemble and associate," said Maina Kiai, a Kenyan special investigator for the U.N. Human Rights Council.
"Other countries should follow and allow the registration of organizations advocating for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people," he said.
Reine Alapini-Gansou of the Gambia-based African Human Rights Commission described the judgment as ground-breaking.
Their statements, with others by U.N. rights investigators, were issued in Geneva through the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.
In making their decision, the Botswana judges rejected government arguments for refusing the registration of the local group, Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, or LEGABIBO.
The experts quoted the court ruling as declaring that "it is not a crime for one to be attracted to people of one's own sex" and that "advocacy for legislative reforms to decriminalize homosexuality is lawful."
Reuters reported from Gabarone that the Botswana judge, Terrence Rannoane, said freedom of expression and association were protected by the country's constitution, even though engaging in homosexual acts was still a crime.
Reported by Robert Evans; editing by Ralph Boulton