HRC and 15 human rights organizations joined forces to once again raise concerns with the U.S. government about a recent spike in human rights violations in the West African nation of The Gambia.
“Recent reports from The Gambia about arbitrary arrests, police brutality and possible torture once again raise concerns about the safety and security of the Gambian LGBT community, who have been the frequent targets of state repression,” said Ty Cobb, Director of HRC Global. “It is time for the U.S. to act.”
Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, who has held power for more than 20 years, has verbally attacked the LGBT community numerous times, most recently telling parliament in March that homosexuality is “ungodly” and that “I will never tolerate it here in The Gambia. Those who will be caught practicing it will face the full force of the law.”
Last year, he threatened to “slit the throats” of any gay men in his country. These threats followed the 2014 passage of a law that created a charge of “aggravated homosexuality,” carrying a life sentence. LGBT Gambians have been arrested, detained without trial and subject to ill treatment by state security forces, including reports of torture.
In recent weeks, Jammeh’s crackdown on human rights defenders has intensified, particularly in light of national elections scheduled for December. In mid-April, Gambian security forces broke up demonstrations in Banjul calling for justice and electoral reforms and arrested a number of people, including prominent members of the Gambian opposition party (UDP). There are reports that at least one opposition member died under suspicious circumstances while in custody, possibly as a result of torture. Dozens are still being held. A wide range of bodies, including the United Nations Secretary-General, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the ECOWAS Commission and the U.S. State Department, have criticized these arrests.
HRC and other human rights organizations have urged the U.S. government to announce sanctions against Gambian officials in order to send a clear message that continued human rights violations will place a severe strain on U.S.-Gambian relations. These could include travel bans or sanctions available in International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which the U.S. government has used before in response to human rights abuses in Belarus, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and others.