Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has signed into law a bill which mandates life sentences for “aggravated homosexuality” and targets “serial offenders” and people with HIV or AIDS, the Associated Press reports. The law was apparently signed October 9, but “no government officials have yet publicly notified the country of the new law.”
According to Human Rights First, the Gambian law seeks to punish those who engage in consensual relationships with a person of the same sex, putting sex acts on a par with pedophilia, incestuous sexual abuse, and the deliberate passing of HIV to an unknowing partner. It contains language similar to that contained within Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was struck down on a technicality by the nation’s Supreme Court. The bill refrains from punishing organizations or treatment centers which work with LGBT citizens, unlike its Ugandan counterpart, instead specifically focusing on individuals engaging in homosexual acts.
Gambia has recently stepped up its actions against LGBT citizens, beginning November with a “crackdown on ‘homosexuality'”, according to Amnesty International. Eight people — four men, a 17-year-old boy and three women — have been arrested, detained and tortured since November 7 in a joint operation between Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency and the Presidential Guards which Amnesty are calling “state-sponsored homophobia.”
“This unacceptable crackdown reveals the scale of state-sponsored homophobia in Gambia,” Amnesty’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Steve Cockburn, said in a statement. ” Intimidation, harassment, and any arrest based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity is in clear violation of international and regional human rights law. The Gambian authorities must immediately stop this homophobic assault.”
Human Rights First’s Advocacy Counsel, Shawn Gaylord, voiced concerns that government-sanctioned violence could increase with the passing of the new law. “We are very concerned that this abhorrent law will lead to an increase in the government crackdown on LGBT Gambians, and even greater impunity for violent acts against them,” he stated, adding, “The United States must make it clear to President Jammeh that increased targeting of LGBT people will damage the bilateral relationship.”
Gaylord also condemned Gambia’s anti-gay law. “The enactment of this bill is an alarming setback for the protection of human rights in Gambia, where members of the LGBT community face an ongoing government crackdown that includes arrests, detention, and abuse,” he said. “We urge the Obama Administration to immediately publicly condemn this legislation and to explore all available avenues for response.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) echoed Gaylord’s sentiments, condemning the law. “These draconian laws have no place in the 21st century, and the United States must send a clear message that the Gambian government cannot trample on the rights of its LGBT citizens,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “We call on the Obama Administration to conduct a full diplomatic review of the United States’ relationship with The Gambia.”
The HRC’s Global Director, Ty Cobb, specifically criticized President Jammeh for “[riding] a wave of anti-LGBT laws enacted in Africa.
“He has been one of the most violently vocal opponents of LGBT people—promoting stigmatization, describes them them as ‘vermin’ and even calling for their death,” Cobb continued. “But it’s very important to note that this is a global problem, not an African one.”
Earlier this year, Reuters reported that President Jammeh, in a speech to mark Gambia’s 49th year of independence from Britain, stated, “We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively. We will therefore not accept any friendship, aid or any other gesture that is conditional on accepting homosexuals or LGBT as they are now baptised by the powers that promote them. As far as I am concerned, LGBT can only stand for Leprosy, Gonorrhoea, Bacteria and Tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence.”
Jammeh rose to power in a coup in 1994, and has since drawn international criticism for human rights abuses, restriction of press freedoms, and his use of the death penalty in 2012, which, while enshrined in law, had not been practiced since 1985.
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