The Senate of Burundi today rejected a proposed amendment to the new draft of the criminal code that would have criminalised homosexual conduct for the first time.

Human rights groups had brought pressure on the government and highlighted the issue internationally.

Activists wrote to the African nation’s President and the Senate pointing out that the provision would violate the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Burundi is a party.

The new criminal code was drafted over a period of nearly two years, with the assistance of Burundian and international legal experts, after elections in 2005 restored a democratic system in Burundi and required the revision of legal texts.

However, in October 2008, at the end of the discussion on the bill, the Human Rights and Justice Commission in the National Assembly inserted a provision criminalising “anyone who engages in sexual relations with a person of the same sex.”

The provision would have been the first law criminalising gays and lesbians in the country’s history.

The bill was approved by the National Assembly on November 22nd with little debate.

On February 6th the Senate Justice Commission completed a series of amendments to the National Assembly version, but it did not amend the provision on homosexuality.

Human Rights Watch had claimed that a number of Senators told them they were personally opposed to the provision, but were wavering under pressure from certain political figures and religious groups.