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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 22, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 21
U.S. condemns anti-Gay threats by Gambia President Yahya Jammeh
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U.S. condemns anti-Gay threats by Gambia President Yahya Jammeh

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice has condemned anti-Gay threats made by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh.

At a recent political rally in the small African country, Jammeh reportedly threatened to kill Gays.

'If you do it [in Gambia] I will slit your throat,' Jammeh is quoted as saying. 'If you are a man and want to marry another man in this country and we catch you, no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it.'

In a May 11 statement, Rice condemned Jammeh's remarks and raised concerns about other anti-Gay moves in The Gambia.

'The recent unconscionable comments by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh underscore why we must continue to seek a world in which no one lives in fear of violence or persecution because of who they are or whom they love,' Rice said.

'We condemn his comments, and note these threats come amid an alarming deterioration of the broader human rights situation in The Gambia. We are deeply concerned about credible reports of torture, suspicious disappearances - including of two American citizens - and arbitrary detention at the government's hands.'

In October, Jemmeh signed a law making 'aggravated homosexuality' punishable by life in prison. As defined under the law, 'aggravated homosexuality' includes 'serial offenders' as well as engaging in same-sex sexual contact with a minor or while having HIV.

While Rice was forceful in condemning Jammeh, LGBT activists were concerned that the U.S. response was slow in coming. Only one day before Rice made her statement, Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz told a news briefing that he 'had no comment' on The Gambia president's remarks.

A week previously, HRC and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights wrote an open letter to Rice calling for a White House statement condemning the remarks.

Such an official statement, the groups said, would 'help advance human rights in the country by exposing these ongoing injustices to the world and by standing on the side of ordinary Gambians who continue to advocate for accountability and justice in the country.'

The letter also calls for visa bans for Jammeh and other leaders engaged in anti-LGBT conduct as well as a review of military and security assistance with the country. A visa ban would have particular impact on Jemmeh because he owns a $3.5 million mansion in Maryland less than 20 miles from the White House.

HRC Vice President Fred Sainz said his organization is happy with the statement Rice issued on May 11.

'We're very gratified that she spoke out so forcefully against conduct that by any measure is completely unacceptable,' Sainz said.

Jeffrey Smith, an Africa specialist at the Robert Kennedy Center, also expressed gratitude over the condemnation of Gambia's leader.

'Ambassador Rice's timely statement strikes a nice balance by both condemning President Jammeh's most recent and repugnant comments while also rightly linking them to the wider human rights crisis that has afflicted The Gambia under Jammeh's two-decade reign,' Smith said.

But more action is needed from the Obama administration beyond strongly worded statements from the White House, Smith said.

'It is also important to note, however, that strong denunciations from the White House, while certainly welcome, are not enough,' Smith said. 'There must be consequences, and I hope this latest incident proves to the U.S. government that the time has come to issue visa bans and travel restrictions on The Gambia's political leadership.'

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