US Should Act Against Gambia’s Dictatorship

President-Obama-and-President-JammehRepost from AlJazeera.com

On Oct. 9, longtime Gambian President Yahya Jammeh quietly signed into law a new bill that carries a penalty of life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” The renewed crackdown on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Gambia has justifiably earned the West African nation an outsize reputation as one of the most repressive countries on the continent. Far from being an isolated campaign, his assault on LGBT rights is part of a wave of human rights abuses prevailing in the country. Jammeh, who came to power in 1994 after toppling a democratically elected president, is responsible for countless atrocities, including torture, arbitrary executions and disappearances of critics, while crippling civil society through a raft of repressive laws and routine intimidation.

To be sure, Jammeh is not the only African despot targeting vulnerable groups to deflect attention from his excesses and failures. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe have also used convenient scapegoats to stir up populist sentiment and extend their rule. Jammeh’s recent rhetorical venom is an expedient gambit to divert attention from his regime’s abuses as well as the imminent threat of food shortages and famine and a rapid decline in the value of the country’s currency.

He has always been hostile to LGBT rights and is prone to bizarre public outbursts. However, his recent statements and collusion with the state media, which is busy trumpeting dangerous stereotypes about gay people and peddling hate speech, have coincided with crackdowns. At least 15 LGBT people are being detained incommunicado — a grim predicament in a country whose prisons are among the world’s worst. Many more people have fled to neighboring Senegal. The regime is also said to be working off a list of 200 alleged homosexuals, who are targeted for arrest. Even minors have not been spared during this nationwide roundup. For example, a 16-year-old boy was recently detained for nearly two weeks on “suspicion of being gay.” The National Intelligence Agency, a unit infamous for carrying out disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions, is leading this effort.

For too long, Jammeh and his purveyors of terror in Gambia received a free pass from the international community for their heinous crimes. It is time for the United States and its allies to break their silence and take action. The European Union has already withdrawn significant financial support because of Gambia’s poor human rights record. On Dec. 4, the White House issued a statement expressing dismay over rampant human rights violations and the persecution of LGBT people. But press statements and finger wagging will not suffice. Continue reading at Al Jazeera.

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