Refugees facing imprisonment in their home country because they are gay may have grounds to be granted asylum in the European Union, the 28-nation bloc's top court ruled on Thursday.
The existence of laws allowing the imprisonment of homosexuals "may constitute an act of persecution per se," if they are routinely enforced, the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice said.
A homosexual cannot be expected to conceal his sexual orientation in his home country to avoid persecution since that would amount to renouncing a "characteristic fundamental to a person's identity," the EU court added.
It ruled on the cases of three people from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal seeking asylum in the Netherlands.
Worldwide, more than 70 countries have laws that are used to criminalize people on the basis of sexual orientation, according to the International Commission of Jurists, an advocacy group. The laws typically prohibit either certain types of sexual activity or contain a blanket ban on intimacy and sexual activity between members of the same sex.