Gambia Approves Life Sentence for ‘Aggravated Homosexuality’

Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh

Gambia’s recent passage of a more stringent anti-gay law will put the already persecuted lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community in the country at even greater risk of abuse, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Saturday.

The new crime of “aggravated homosexuality,” which carries punishments of up to life in prison, is part of a criminal code President Yahya Jammeh approved on October 9, 2014, documents uncovered in mid-November show.

Among those who could be charged with “aggravated homosexuality” are “serial offenders” and people living with HIV who are deemed to be gay or lesbian.

Exactly what constitutes “homosexuality” or a “homosexual act” is not defined in Gambian law.

“That makes Gambia’s criminalization of homosexual activity – which already violates international law – even more likely to be used broadly and arbitrarily,”  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said. 

“The new law treats consensual, private sexual activity between adults of the same sex – which should not be a crime – in the same way as rape and incest,” said Steve Cockburn, deputy regional director for West and Central Africa at Amnesty International.

“The vague and imprecise provisions of this law could be used to arrest and detain anyone who is believed to be gay or lesbian, and contributes to the already severe climate of hostility and fear for LGBTI people in the country.”  

The rights groups accused the Gambian authorities of failing to acknowledge the enactment of the “aggravated homosexuality” law, despite repeated questioning during a United Nations review of the country’s human rights record on October 28.

The statement added, “Legislation in force in the country already criminalizes consensual, private sexual activity between adults of the same sex, in violation of international human rights law.

“Passing the law appears to form part of a broader attack on the LGBTI community in Gambia. At least three women, four men, and a 17-year-old boy were arrested between November 7 and 13 and threatened with torture because of their presumed sexual orientation. Another six women were arrested on November 18 and 19 and remain in detention, a member of the LGBTI community in Gambia reported.

“The detainees said that they were told that if they did not “confess,” including by providing the names of others, a device would be forced into their anus or vagina to “test” their sexual orientation. Such treatment would violate international law prohibiting torture and ill-treatment.

“Arresting and torturing people based on their sexual orientation is shameful, and inventing new crimes with even harsher sentences is scandalous,” Cockburn said. “Gambia’s new law not only flouts African human rights obligations, it violates its own constitution, which says that all people must be equal and free from discrimination before the law.”

“President Jammeh should have used his constitutional powers to reject this homophobic bill, which was proposed by the National Assembly on August 25, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said.

“President Jammeh’s inflammatory public statements against LGBTI people have been put into practice through this odious law and the witch hunt that followed its secretive passage,” said Monica Tabengwa, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The law and practice are an affront to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights resolution condemning violence against LGBTI people and calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.”


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  • F Young

    Thank you, Premium Times, for reporting on Amnesty International’s condemnation of the Gambian law without resorting to anti-gay histerics, mythmaking and fear mongering. Mind you, this article would have been even better if you had pointed out the parallels between Gambia’s law and the law adopted by Nigeria last year.

  • Ibraheem Aruna

    Amnesty International should let African countries pass, execute, propagate laws that are relative to their culture and ways of life. It is wrong and inappropriate that assume that anything African is bad. In Africa every child has a father and a mother as they should. Amnesty International should butt off, let them come to Ferguson, Cleveland and New York to support campaign against Police brutality. They should preoccupy themselves against the executions that are taking place in Texas, Ohio, Mississippi and Alabama with some of the most inhumane methods.

    • F Young

      To say that the homosexual men and women of Africa do not have the same rights as those of the other continents is to say that Africans do not have the same rights as non-Africans. It implies that Africans are sub-human. It is condescending and racist.

      All humans have human rights, by definition. If they are not universal, they are not really human rights at all. Amnesty International is right to condemn human rights abuses in Africa in the same way they do so everywhere else.

      Amnesty International is one of the world’s most respected human rights advocacy groups. To say that they should be silent about human rights abuses in Africa is to say that Africans do not deserve the same rights as others. To hold African governments to a lower human rights standard is racist.

      In fact, many of Africa’s problems are precisely due to the failure to insist that their governments meet the same standards that apply elsewhere.