President Obama has dropped Gambia from a major trade agreement because of its human rights abuses, including the persecution of gays and lesbians.
In a media statement on Tuesday, the White House said that it was suspending Gambia’s eligibility for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA).
While the statement offered no explanation, a White House spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the decision was related to human rights abuses in the country.
The move comes on the same day as news of the arrest of three men for allegedly having gay. There were previous reports of at least eight other arrests of gay and lesbian people in a sweeping crackdown against the Gambian LGBT community in recent weeks.
According to Amnesty International, these individuals were subjected to torture and ill-treatment to force them to confess their so called “crimes” and to reveal information about other individuals perceived to be gay or lesbian.
Earlier this month, thousands of Gambians, including the country’s homophobic President, Yahya Jammeh, held a mass rally against homosexuality in the capital Banjul. The participants also expressed their support for the country’s recently enacted anti-gay law. The legislation creates the crime of “aggravated homosexuality,” which carries punishment of up to life in prison.
The American action follows a European Union decision to withdrawn millions of euros in aid because of Gambia’s poor human rights record and condemnation of the anti-gay law from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
HRC, America’s largest LGBT rights organisation, commended the Obama administration for taking action against the Gambian government.
“This decision is an important first step in sending a clear signal to President Yayha Jammeh and his associates about their human rights record, and they cannot be allowed to trample on the rights of LGBT Gambians,” said Jean Freedberg, Deputy Director of HRC Global.
“The United States government should not move forward with business as usual with The Gambia when LGBT people are harassed, imprisoned, tortured, or even killed because of who they are.”
The Gambian government has stated that it would be unmoved by Western withdrawal of aid or support because of its anti-gay policies and laws.
Late last month, Gambia’s Foreign Minister, Bala Garba Jahumpa, said that the country will not negotiate on the issue of LGBT equality with the West, claiming that gay people are un-African and satanic.
President Jammeh has previously equated LGBT people to vermin and malaria-causing mosquitoes, said that homosexuality was amongst the biggest threats facing the world, and even threatened to decapitate gays and lesbians.