Gambia: Human Rights and Homophobia

The Gambia, led by President Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh, has had a track record of severe human rights violations with frequent use of security forces as a tool of repression. Jammeh came to power after a military coup in 1994.

Citizens are regularly detained without due process and, in 2008, three judges were unconstitutionally removed from office. Disappearances and unlawful killings of political opponents and human rights defenders have occurred without the Gambian government attempting to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

For more information about human rights violations in the Gambia, see Amnesty International’s 2009 Report here.

The government has also impeded the right to freedom of speech by routinely arresting journalists and, in some cases, charging them with criminal offenses for speaking out. The murder of Deyda Hydara, editor of The Point and a critic of the Gambian government, has remained unsolved since 2005. Hydara was killed after speaking out against the repressive media laws implemented by the administration. The perpetrators in the murder are believed by many to be the “green boys,” the President Jammeh’s personal bodyguards. President Jammeh suggested on the radio that the murder could be a result of an act of vengeance by an angry husband whose wife committed adultery with Hydara. On June 12, 2009, journalists of the Gambian Press Union (GPU) condemned the President’s comments, which they believed to have vilified Hydara. On June 15, 2009, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) arrested 7 of the GPU journalists for these statements with charges of sedition and defamation. (See Media Foundation for West Africa's Gambia Updates on June 15, 2009 and July 9, 2009.)

It is in this climate of fear and oppression that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are particularly targeted for discrimination and violence. In the Gambia, homosexual conduct has been criminalized since the enactment of its 1965 Criminal Code. Article 144 of the Code states that homosexual acts are “unnatural offense(s)” and those found guilty of such acts can be imprisoned for up to 14 years.

Last year, President Jammeh publicly denounced homosexuality and gave LGBT people in the Gambia an ultimatum to leave the country by stating that he would “cut of the head” of anyone believed to be homosexual discovered in the Gambia and by warning Gambian hotel owners not to rent rooms to “homosexuals.” This statement was given in response to a number of Senegalese gay men seeking refuge in Gambia as a result of a campaign of persecution of LGBT people in Senegal. President Jammeh claimed that such refugees, specifically sexual minorities, were the cause of problems in the development of the Gambia. Later, in response to criticisms of the statement, Gambian authorities denied that Jammeh had ever made the threat of decapitation. (See The Point for Freedom and Democracy for more information.)

The citizens of the Gambia live in a culture of silence, at risk when they speak out against the violations of their rights for fear of further persecution. Without an independent judiciary and a nascent human rights movement, all Gambians are without the protection of the law and subject to violations of their fundamental rights. (See Amnesty International 2009 report in PDF format for more information.)