IGLHRC Condemns Statements by Gambian President – Calls for Decriminalization of Homosexuality
New York, May 22, 2008
In a strongly worded letter to Gambian President Yahyeh Jammeh, Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) condemned statements by the West African leader ordering homosexuals out of the country, threatening hotel owners who rented rooms to gay and lesbian people, and threatening summary executions. Ettelbrick also called for the repeal of Gambia’s antiquated sodomy law, inherited from its days as British colony. (See below for the full text of the letter.)
A former army lieutenant, Jammeh overthrew the democratically elected government of the Gambia in 1994, while the Gambian President was on a visiting U.S. warship. Since 1994 there have been many well-documented examples of human rights violations in Gambia perpetrated against journalists, human rights defenders and members of the political opposition. These have included arbitrary arrests and detentions, expulsions and extra-judicial executions. In 2007 President Jammeh announced that he had developed a “miracle cure” for HIV/AIDS.
In February 2008, a number of Senegalese gay men were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in nearby countries, including the Gambia, as a result of a campaign of persecution of lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender people that included arbitrary arrests, violence by mobs, and media attacks.
IGLHRC will be inviting other groups and individuals to take action against homophobic statements by the Gambian head-of-state in the next few days.
23 May 2008
President Yayeh Jammeh
Private Mail Bag
Banjul, The Gambia
I write on behalf of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) to express our concern and outrage over reports that you have given gay men and lesbians twenty-four hours to leave the Gambia, or face “serious consequences”. Reports in the Daily Observer indicate that you have warned landlords, hotel owners and others who might rent dwellings to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people that they must expel gay men and lesbians from their dwellings.
President Jammeh, your statements are in direct violation of your country’s own Constitution and compromise Gambia’s adherence to several international and regional human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Gambian Constitution states that “every person shall have the right to liberty and security of the person.” The African Charter, in Article 2 states that “every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status.”
Your statements tell the people of Gambia that it is acceptable to turn away its neighbors who are need. Article 12 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, of which your country is a signatory, states that, “every individual shall have the right, when persecuted, to seek and obtain asylum in other countries in accordance with laws of those countries and international conventions.” Any gay or lesbian person, be they a Gambian national or a refugee from a neighboring country, has the right to the protection of the Gambian government, not its enmity. By threatening hotel owners who rent rooms to LGBT people, you are further denying individuals the rights to housing and security and ordering business owners to discriminate based on their fear of government reprisal.
You were also quoted, President Jammeh, to have threatened “to cut off the head” of any homosexual caught in the Gambia. The ICCPR and the African Charter condemn extra-judicial executions and political killings. The Yogyakarta Principles, signed by several prominent African jurists, have made clear that “everyone has the right to life” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of life, including by reference to considerations of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Your threats are creating an environment of fear and persecution in your country.
Gambia hosts the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and several key human rights non-governmental organizations. As such, you have a special responsibility to move above your personal moral or religious beliefs and recognize that while viewpoints on homosexuality may differ in the Gambia, your country is committed to a human rights regime that includes the basic human rights of all minorities. Intolerance and hatred are distinctly unspiritual values denounced by the Bible, the Koran, and all other major religious texts.
President Jammeh, we ask that you immediately retract your statements and make clear to the Gambian public that violence against any segment of the population will not be tolerated. We will be vigilantly monitoring the human rights situation in the Gambia, with particular focus on the treatment of LGBT Gambians, to ensure that your statements do not escalate levels of violence. Thousands of visitors come to your country each year from Africa, Europe and North America and experience the warm and open hospitality of the Gambian people. Our belief is that the Gambian people are accepting and tolerant of differences, be they linguistic, ethnic or sexual.
Furthermore, we ask that you begin the process of repealing Article 144 of the Criminal Code of 1965, which calls for the imprisonment of people convicted of consensual homosexual acts for up to 14 years. This law, inherited from the British penal code, is no longer acceptable in a modern society, respectful of human rights and values.
Blaming sexual minorities for the problems of the country is a strategy that has been tried in other countries. Gay and lesbian people are not your problem or your enemy. They are your sons and daughters, the teachers of your children, the pastors of your churches, the leaders of your mosques, the seller of tomatoes in the market. We are everywhere, making contributions everyday to the development of our countries.
Gambian authorities must respect and protect the human rights of all those living within the country’s borders, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
We look forward to your rapid response.
Paula Ettelbrick Executive Director
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)