Gambia Anti-Gay Bill is a Serious Human Rights Setback

Washington, D.C.  – Human Rights First today said news that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has signed into law a bill that violates the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Gambians marks a tremendous blow to the protection of human rights in Gambia, especially in the nation’s targeted LGBT community. The new law calls for life sentences for some homosexual acts determined to be “aggravated homosexuality,” and is similar in language and penalty to the egregious Anti-Homosexuality Act that was recently struck down in Uganda.

“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,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “We urge the Obama Administration to immediately publicly condemn this legislation and to explore all available avenues for response.”

The Gambian bill seeks to subject those convicted of participating in consensual homosexual sexual relationships to the same sentence as those convicted of pedophilia, familial sexual abuse, or knowingly infecting a partner with HIV. The bill is narrower than its Ugandan predecessor in that it does not include any provisions to target clinics or support systems for LGBT Gambians.

In the past month alone Gambian authorities have arrested, detained, and tortured eight citizens under investigation for homosexual “crimes,” subjecting these men and women to violence and abuse in custody, according to Amnesty International. President Jammeh has made it clear on several occasions that he is supportive of discriminatory policies, stating “We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively.”

“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. The United States must make it clear to President Jammeh that increased targeting of LGBT people will damage the bilateral relationship,” added Gaylord.

Human Rights First continues to urge the United States to demonstrate leadership on the rights of LGBT people worldwide by working to stop passage of further discriminatory laws and promote the protection of LGBT rights as human rights worldwide. Human Rights First’s African Voices for Equality Map details some of the brave leaders who are standing up for equality and dignity for all people. Human Rights First and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s recently released report  provides brief country-specific overviews on the status of LGBT people in each of the Africa’s 54 nations.

The organization is also calling for the State Department to establish a Special Envoy in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor responsible for foreign policy initiatives to protect the human rights of LGBT people worldwide.


Published on November 21, 2014


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