News in and around The Gambia have being somewhat bleak for human rights and social justice activists in recent
times. In August this year, the parliament passed a bill amending the criminal code introducing life sentence for
The draft law prompted an international outcry from human rights organisations such as Freedom House,
vocal anti-gay leaders signed the bill into law later in October without any hesitation.
Some few weeks later, reports emerged of the mass arrest and detention of people on suspicion of being homosexuals. According to rights groups, up to four men, a 17-year old boy and nine women had reportedly been arrested on suspicion of committing homosexual acts.
Campaigns against Jammeh’s notorious human rights records have tighten over the period. By late November,
foreign affairs minister announced that the tiny West African country would sever all dialogue with the
aid to impose policies on his government, a position Jammeh has repeatedly emphasised. The minister also rejected what he said were attempts by the bloc to use its aid budget to force Gambia to revoke a tough new law against homosexuality.
On 24th November, the US State Department issued its first response to the situation in The Gambia.
“We are dismayed by President Jammeh’s decision to sign into law legislation that further restricts the rights of
LGBT individuals and are deeply concerned about the reported arrests and detention of suspected LGBT
individuals in The Gambia,” a press statement noted.
Days later, hundreds of people joined in a pro government protest chanting anti homosexual slogans. The 9th
December protesters marched through the streets of Banjul, the capital denouncing the EU for withdrawing foreign
aid over the country’s new anti-gay law. In a “not-so surprising” move, resident Yahya Jammeh joined protesters, who held placards and banners reading,
‘Homosexuality is inhuman,’ ‘Even cows don’t do it!’ and ‘Homosexuality is forbidden in Islam.’
In the meantime, authorities have continued on their clampdown on gay people across the country. Few days ago t
hree men were arrested on allegations of committing homosexual acts. The identities of these people remain unknown.
In an unexpected move, the United States last Tuesday revoked The Gambia’s eligibility for US preferential
trade programme known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).A presidential proclamation announcing
the decision did not specify the reasons for declaring The Gambia and South Sudan ineligible for Agoa benefits but
referred to general criteria of the programme.
The two major criteria for Agoa are that a country “does not engage in activities that undermine US national security
or foreign policy interests” and “does not engage in gross violations of internationally recognised human rights”.
The decision is effective 1st January 2015.
It is not clear as to what will be Banjul’s response to the announcement by Washington but it is almost certain
that Jammeh will not bow down to “remote” diplomatic pressures. Thus President Obama’s Christmas and
New Year’s present to President Jammeh will likely get all the attention it deserves in Jammeh’s New Year
address to the nation next week.