A homophobic despot: President Yahya Jammeh
In a damning report, Human Rights Watch has documented Gambia’s appalling human rights violations over the last two decades, including those against LGBT people.
The 81-page report, State of Fear: Arbitrary Arrests, Torture, and Killings, describes the human rights situation in Gambia since President Yahya Jammeh took power in 1994 and ruthlessly repressed all forms of dissent.
Gambian security forces frequently arrest people without suspicion or charge, often detaining them secretly for months and even years, said the organisation.
The report is based on in-depth interviews with over 35 victims and witnesses of human rights violations, including journalists, human rights defenders, student leaders, political opposition members, religious leaders, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.
“Looking beyond Gambia’s beautiful beaches, the population lives in a climate of fear in which injustice prevails and accountability for abuses is beyond reach,” said Felicity Thompson, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.
“The government needs to urgently turn things around by respecting basic rights and prosecuting those who violate them.”
Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA), a paramilitary group known as the “Jungulers,” and armed units of the Gambian Police Force have been most frequently implicated in the abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
One former Junguler told Human Rights Watch: “When [Jammeh] wants to torture you, he uses the Jungulers team to torture you. Or if he wants to arrest you secretly, he uses this Jungulers team. Or when he wants to kill you without anyone finding out, they will just kill you and throw you [away].”
Gambians who identify as LGBT or who are perceived as such are regularly the target of Jammeh’s vitriolic hate speech, discriminatory new laws, and arbitrary detention and mistreatment.
In May, Jammeh said at a rally that he would “slit the throats” of gay Gambians – the most recent slur in a long history of anti-gay hate speech. He’s repeatedly attacked LGBT people as “vermin” and asserted that the “evil empire of homosexuals will also go down the dirty drain and garbage of hell…”
After passage of an “aggravated homosexuality” law in October 2014, imposing a life sentence for a series of new offences, the authorities arrested dozens of LGBT people, some of whom were abused in detention.
One witness described seeing three men detained at the NIA headquarters in November on charges of homosexuality as having been “severely beaten.”
The witness said state security agents were trying to force the men to confess to engaging in homosexual activity. Another witness said the men suffered regular abuse during their nine-month detention at the NIA.
One man who fled Gambia in 2015 after being acquitted of “unnatural acts” said he was repeatedly tortured while in NIA detention. “I was beaten with a club and fists,” he told Human Rights Watch. “They threatened me with death if I didn’t provide names of other homosexuals in Gambia.”
International donors and other governments should consistently and publicly condemn human rights violations in Gambia, raise concerns with government officials at all levels, and press for accountability for abuses by state security forces, Human Rights Watch said.