Today HRC appealed to its members across the United States to take immediate action to help protect more than a dozen imprisoned Gambians, who are being jailed, without access to lawyers or the outside world, for no other reason than they are suspected of being LGBT.
Last week, HRC met with three visiting brave Gambian human rights activists. The activists, supported by the Robert F. Kennedy Center, spoke of the dire situation in their country.
For more than two decades Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, a ruthless leader who seized power in a military coup in 1994, has systematically violated the human rights of his people with impunity. And even though homosexuality was already illegal in the Gambia, he recently signed into law a draconian measure criminalizing being gay with the possibility of life imprisonment. His targeting of LGBT people is a cynical effort to burnish his anti-Western credentials and gain support for his repressive agenda. “We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively,” he reportedly said earlier this year.
After the law was passed, Jammeh’s security forces immediately began detaining those they suspected of being LGBT, and torturing and ill-treating them to provide “names” of others. The authorities are believed to have a list of some 200 more Gambians who have done nothing wrong, but are accused of being LGBT. They are being hunted down, right now.
There is tremendous concern for the lives and safety of those being sought, and those being held now, with the constant prospect of more arrests and detention in the immediate future. In consultation with member groups of a Washington DC-based coalition who are concerned about international LGBT issues, we have launched a campaign that is intended to put pressure on President Jammeh and his associates, and to shine a light into the jail cells of those currently detained.
We know that President Jammeh has close connections to the United States. In fact, he owns a $3.5 million dollar home in Potomac, Maryland, and visits the US regularly. We also know that he cares about his international image and being part of the international community. So we believe that calling him out for his actions, and making it difficult for him to move around the world freely, might have an impact. Therefore, HRC is calling on the U.S. government urgently to restrict entry to the U.S. for him and his associates, and to freeze any assets he may be holding here. It is essential that the U.S. deliver a strong message that human rights violators will not be welcome in the US, and that they must be held accountable for their crimes. Please join us in this action, and help protect LGBT Gambians.