Metro Weekly

Obama urged to take action against Gambia for anti-LGBT law

Barack Obama (left) and Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh - Credit: Amanda Lucidon/White House

Barack Obama (left) and Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh – Credit: Amanda Lucidon/White House

President Barack Obama is facing pressure to take further action against the Gambia for the West African nation’s recently enacted anti-LGBT law.

In a letter to Obama dated Jan. 23, fourteen LGBT-rights organizations urged that Obama’s State Department demand the Gambian government provide more information on the health and safety of individuals who have been detained on the basis of their sexual orientation.

“Some of them may have been released, but an unknown number remain in detention. There are credible reports that at least some of these individuals have been tortured and the lives of those remaining in detention might be in danger,” the letter states. “We therefore urge the United States government to obtain information about the Gambian authorities’ plans to either prosecute or release them.”

Moreover, the organizations recommend Obama take action by placing a visa ban on key Gambian officials, including President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, who have “promoted discriminatory laws and who are responsible for grave human rights abuses.” The letter goes on to state, “Additionally, we understand President Jammeh’s family has assets in the U.S., including a multi- million dollar home in Potomac, Maryland, and we would therefore urge you to consider freezing those assets.”

The letter comes after the Obama administration revoked the Gambia’s eligibility for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act last month in response to the nation’s anti-LGBT law. In October, Jammeh signed into law legislation that threatens life sentences for those who are convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” or are considered “repeat offenders.” Amnesty International has accused the Gambia of torturing its citizens and threatening detainees to confess or “a device would be forced into their anus or vagina to ‘test” their sexual orientation.”

“Arresting and torturing people based on their sexual orientation is shameful, and inventing new crimes with even harsher sentences is scandalous,” Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International deputy regional director for West and Central Africa, said in a November statement. “Gambia’s new law not only flouts African human rights obligations, it violates its own constitution, which says that all people must be equal and free from discrimination before the law.”

Ned Price, spokesperson for the National Security Council, told Metro Weekly additional actions against the Gambia will be guided by the importance the Obama administration places on championing LGBT rights.

“As the letter notes, last month we suspended The Gambia’s eligibility for trade preferences under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) out of concern for human rights abuses, including those perpetrated against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community,” Price said in a statement. “As we consider additional steps, we will be guided by the importance we place on opposing discrimination and championing human rights for all. We continue to call on the Government of The Gambia to respect all human rights, repeal discriminatory legislation, and cease these harmful practices.”

Friday’s letter to Obama was signed by the Human Rights Campaign, The Council for Global Equality, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Human Rights First, GLAAD, National LGBTQ Task Force, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Global Justice Institute, National Center for Transgender Equality, Out & Equal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, PFLAG, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and The Fellowship Global.

“It is not too late for the United States to send President Jammeh and his regime a clear and unequivocal message: human rights violations will not be tolerated, and the U.S. government will respond with actions, as well as with strong condemnation,” the letter concludes. “It is crucial that the United States take concrete action whenever countries enact discriminatory laws, and The Gambia should be no exception.”

Gambia Letter to President Obama

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Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.

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