Crusade to root out homosexuality like malariaPosted: 7 April, 2014
The Gambia is largely Muslim-dominated, with about 95 per cent of the population being Muslims. It is also highly traditional. Thus, Islam significantly influences people’s ways of lives. In the recent years, there has been much discussion, in the media and political fora, about homosexuality and homosexual rights in The Gambia. The attitude of the ordinary Gambian towards homosexuals is outright hostile, fanned by the extreme condemnation from both political and religious leaders. People are made to believe that homosexuals are cursed and support for homosexual rights would spell doom for Islam and Gambian culture, whatever that means. Due to this charged hostility towards homosexuals, there are only few lone voices that dare to challenge current beliefs about and hostility towards homosexuality or campaign to hold the state accountable for the respect, protection and fulfillment of the sexuality rights. The criminalisation of homosexuality provides the state with an opportunity to violate the rights of homosexual with impunity and absolute disregard for the rule of law.
The arch opponent of homosexuals and their rights is the president of The Gambia. During the recent celebration s to mark The Gambia’s independence celebration, on 18 February 2014, President Yahya Jammeh stated that his government “will fight these vermin called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes; if not more aggressively”. He further noted that The Gambia would not spare any homosexual, and that no diplomatic immunity would be respected for any diplomat found guilty or accused of being a homosexual. The next day, United States’ Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the President Jammeh’s comments, calling on the international community to send a clear signal that statements of this nature are unacceptable and have no place in the public dialogue.
The Gambia has clearly demonstrated its increasing hostility towards homosexual community. The Gambia, like many African states, has criminalised sexual activities between persons of the same sex even though it does not have a specific enacted law such as Uganda’s recent Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014. The Criminal Code (Amendment) Act of 2005 categorises acts of homosexuality as unnatural offences and levied a punishment of 14 years imprisonment for the commission of such offences and a 7 year jail term for attempts to commit such offences under section 144(1) of the Act. The Criminal Code, under section 147, further prohibits acts of gross indecency between males as well as the engagement of females in such acts with other females. The Code refers to an act of gross indecency to mean any homosexual act.
On 16 April 2013, the Criminal Code (amendment) Act of 2013 otherwise known as “The Principal Act”, amended the Criminal Code (amendment) Act of 2005 to include the prohibition of cross dressing under section 167. This was in response to an incident which occurred on 6 April 2012, when police arrested two women and 18 men and charged them with “attempt to commit unnatural offences” and “conspiracy to commit a felony” after they were found cross dressed at a dance ceremony for tourists in Kololi. The prosecution had argued as evidence of “unnatural acts” that some of the men were found wearing women’s clothing. They were detained for two weeks even though they had pleaded not guilty to the charges when they were arraigned before the Kanifing Magistrates Court. The case was later dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence against the accused persons.
Such incidents clearly express contempt for certain classes of citizens. The laws, which are contributing to making the environment extreme hostile for homosexuals and their human rights defenders, are discriminatory and clear violations of the rights to freedom of expression, equal treatment before the law and marriage as guaranteed in international and regional human rights instruments to which The Gambia is a party to. The United Nation’s Human Rights Commission has shown solidarity for the right to self-expression and is of the view that restrictions on one’s choice of clothing or style due to his or her sexual orientation is a clear violation of international law as it not in conformity with the restrictions spelt out in Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Would the current climate of defamation, scorn and vituperation that homosexuals are subject to in The Gambia ever abate? The prognosis is bleak.
The language of political leadership is full of venom for this class of the population. Religious leaders have strong influence over their followers who have been made to believe that acceptance of homosexuality will sound the death knell for Islam and their culture. Dissent is suppressed and any open support for the recognition of rights for all persons, including homosexuals, will not only be uncharitably condemned but is certain to be left with no other choice but to deny their sexual orientation and play safe. Defenders of sexual minority rights risk their personal safety and a “life sentence” of harassment and intimidation from the state.
About the Author:
Satang Nabaneh holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) University of The Gambia (The Gambia) and an LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa from the University of Pretoria (South Africa). Her research interests include children’s and women’s rights.