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Anti-LGBT laws worldwide

The Gambia's anti-gay legislation

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About The Gambia:

map of Africa whowing location of the Gambia The Republic of The Gambia is located on the West coast of Africa. It is surrounded by Senegal except for a short shore line at the Atlantic Ocean. The country straddles the Gambia river. It is the smallest of the 54 countries in Africa, consisting of a strip of land 15 to 30 miles (25 to 50 km) wide, and 295 miles long (470 km) -- running east and west. It has a population of about 1.7 million of whom probably about 85,000 are gay or lesbian, or will become gay or lesbian as they age.

Information web sites about The Gambia do not agree on the precise religious makeup of the nation. Most state that on the order of 90% of the population is Muslim; 5% is Christian and 5% is Animist. However, many Muslims and Christians incorporate some Animist beliefs and practices into their personal faith.

The Gambia was a colony of the United Kingdom until it attained independence in 1965-FEB. The official language is English. However, many Gambians speak one or more indigenous languages. 1

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As of 2014-SEP-17: The Gambia, human rights, and the LGBT community:

Amnesty International's 2013 report contained a summary of The Gambia's human rights record:

"For the first time in nearly 30 years the death penalty was carried out, as nine death row inmates were executed without prior notification. The inmates had not exhausted all of their appeals. The authorities also repressed dissent through harassment and intimidation. Security forces routinely made arbitrary arrests and subjected people to arbitrary detention. Prison conditions were appalling." 2

As with essentially all other predominately Muslim countries, the Gambian LGBT community is forced to remain deeply "in the closet."

According to a UK Government web site:

There is a zero tolerance towards LGBT people in The Gambia. Although there are no laws specifically covering homosexuality, [Section 144 titled "Unnatural offenses" of] the Gambian Criminal Code states that any person who has or attempts to have ‘carnal knowledge’ of any person ‘against the order of nature’ is guilty of a crime and could face 14 years’ imprisonment. Any private citizen has the power of arrest for these offences. There is increasing inflammatory homophobic rhetoric from the Gambian President. Foreign nationals have been detained by the police in relation to suspected or alleged homosexuality. Gambian law criminalizes the act of men dressing as women with a 5-year jail term. 3

Section 147 of The Gambia's Criminal Code assigns a jail sentence of up to five years for anyone committing an act of "gross indecency." That includes all same-gender sexual acts and also appears to include the consensual use of sex toys in private by anyone.

The Gambia does not permit marriage for same-sex couples, does not recognize their relationships, offers no protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and prohibits LGBT persons from adopting children. 4

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Statements by Yahya Jammeh, the President of The Gambia:

In 2008-MAY, President Jammeh said that the government would soon be introducing bills to the National Assembly that were "... stricter than those in Iran." He threatened to "... cut off the head" of any homosexual found in the country. He delivered an ultimatum to "... homosexuals, drug dealers, thieves and other criminals" to leave the country. He ordered:

"... all those who harbor such individuals to kick them out of their compounds, noting that a mass patrol will be conducted on the instructions of the [Inspector General of Police] ... and the director of the Gambia Immigration Department to weed bad elements in society." ... Any hotel, lodge[,] or motel that lodges this kind of individual will be closed down, because this act is unlawful. We are in a Muslim dominated country and I will not and shall never accept such individuals in this country." 5

The U.S. State Department issued a report condemning human rights practices in The Gambia:

"Other human rights problems included poor prison conditions; denial of due process, prolonged pretrial detention, and incommunicado detention; restrictions on privacy and freedoms of speech, press, and assembly; violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation; forced child marriage; trafficking in persons; child prostitution; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals; and child labor." 6

At various times during 2013 and 2014, President Jammeh mentioned homosexuality. Examples were:

  • "We will fight these vermin called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes -- if not more aggressively."

  • Homosexuality is anti-humanity. I have never seen [a] homosexual chicken, or turkey. If you are convicted of homosexuality in this country, there will be no mercy for offenders. We will put you in the female wing of the prison."

  • [Homosexuality is] one of the three "biggest threats to human existence."

  • [Homosexuality, along with greed and obsession with world domination, is] "more deadly than all natural disasters put together." 7

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2014-AUG: A new anti-gay bill was passed:

On 2014-SEP-08, opposition leader, Samba Jallow, said that the National Assembly had passed an anti-gay bill that would assign life sentences for anyone found guilty of "aggravated homosexuality." According to a draft bill, it contains sections very similar to the new Ugandan law. It defines "aggravated homosexuality" as same-gender sexual activity by "serial offenders" and by people living with HIV or AIDS. 8

Adotei Akwei, managing director of government relations for Amnesty International, said:

"Gambia’s bill is a copycat of the Ugandan legislation. ... We expect [Gambian President Jammeh] to sign it into law. He’s never held back on a threat he’s made. ... We have to understand is that these pieces of legislation are parts of larger systemic human rights issues that plague the governments passing them. These are the same governments that harass human rights defenders, [and] cut freedom of expression. ... While the LGBT issue is a powerful focal point, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the issue of governance is really at the heart of this. ... [Educating people in the region, however, will be] a long uphill battle. ... " 9

An important clause in the bill would increase the jail sentence for those convicted of same-gender sexual activity from the present 14 years to life imprisonment -- if it is signed into law. With the current conditions in The Gambian jails, life imprisonment may not be a long sentence.

The BBC reports that President Jammeh has until 2014-SEP-24 to sign the bill into law. Few doubt that he will sign it.

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Ty Cobb, director of global engagement, of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released a statement saying:

"These draconian laws have no place in the 21st century, and the United States must send a clear message — privately or publicly — to the Gambian leadership that a government must not trample on the rights of its LGBT citizens. When a bill advances that deprives LGBT people of their basic human rights, whether it be in The Gambia, Nigeria, or Brunei, the Obama Administration should conduct a full diplomatic review of the United States’ relationship with those countries. The U.S. government cannot move forward with business as usual when LGBT people are threatened with harassment, imprisonment, or even death because of who they are or whom they love." 9

Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First described the bill as:

",,, part of the rising tide of homophobia in many African nations."

Ned Price, assistant press secretary and director for strategic communications at the National Security Council, wrote:

"While this bill has not passed into law, as a general matter, we have made clear our commitment to promoting and protecting the human rights of LGBT persons around the world, and our opposition to discriminatory legislation that threatens these rights. We reiterate our calls on the Government of The Gambia to protect the human rights of all Gambians." 9

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Klaus Kästle, "The Gambia," Nations Online, 2014, at: http://www.nationsonline.org/
  2. "Gambia: Annual Report 2013," Amnesty International, at: http://www.amnesty.org/
  3. Foreign travel advice: Gambia." UK Government, undated, at: https://www.gov.uk/
  4. "LGBT rights in the Gambia," Wikipedia, as on 2014-AUG-16, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. Alhagie Jobe, "No room for gays in The Gambia," Daily Observer, 2008-MAY-19, at: http://observer.gm/
  6. "2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: The Gambia," Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, Page 24 at: http://www.state.gov/
  7. Ludovica Iaccino, "Gambia's Anti-Gay Laws: Life Imprisonment for 'Vermin' Homosexuals," International Business Times, 2014-SEP-10, at: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/
  8. "Gambia Passes Anti-Gay Bill Imposing Life Imprisonment For Some Same-Sex Acts," Huffington Post, 2014-SEP-08, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  9. Emma Margolin, "Another African nation to enact anti-gay law," MSNBC, 2014-SEP-14, at: http://www.msnbc.com/

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally written: 2014-SEP-17
Latest update: 2014-SEP-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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