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John Kerry ‘deeply troubled’ by Gambian leader’s anti-gay statement

Human Rights Campaign calls on US Secretary of State to pull ambassadors out of Nigeria, Uganda

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh said in a televised address Feb 18 that gay people are vermin that need to be eradicated. Credit: File photo

US Secretary of State John Kerry is “deeply troubled” by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s call to eradicate gay people, he wrote in a brief statement Feb 19. “We call on the Government of The Gambia to protect the human rights of all Gambians, and we encourage the international community to send a clear signal that statements of this nature have no place in the public dialogue and are unacceptable.”

On Feb 18, Jammeh told Gambians in a televised address, “We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes.”

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign has asked Kerry to recall US ambassadors to Nigeria and Uganda in response to those countries’ anti-gay laws.

“The Ugandan and Nigerian governments’ decisions to treat their LGBT citizens like criminals cannot be accepted as business as usual by the US government,” the gay rights group wrote in a press release.

Nigeria passed a law last month effectively criminalizing homosexuality, and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has promised to sign a bill that would punish “aggravated homosexuality” with life imprisonment. 

The Ugandan government issued an ambiguous statement about its own anti-gay law on Feb 20. “Following the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by the Parliament of Uganda in December 2013, fears have been expressed by sections of the international community that this could lead to the persecution of some sections of Ugandan society,” spokesman Ofwono Opondo said. “[The] Government of Uganda reiterates its commitment to uphold and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons in Uganda as guaranteed by the Constitution.”

He later said, “No person shall be prosecuted outside the provisions of the law.”

Ugandan gay rights groups point out that, because the Ugandan constitution offers explicit protection for LGBT people, the government’s statement is no less worrying.

In one show of support, however, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano wrote an open letter to African leaders in The Africa Report asking for tolerance for gay people. “We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis,” he wrote. “As an African who has been around a long time, I understand the resistance to these ideas. But I can also step back and see that the larger course of human history, especially of the past century or so, is one of expanding human rights and freedoms. African leaders should be at the helm of this, and not hold back. Not at this critical moment.”