Following calls from LGBT advocates urging her to speak out, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice condemned on Saturday the president of Gambia’s pledge to slit the throats of gay men in his country as “unconscionable.”
“We condemn his comments, and note these threats come amid an alarming deterioration of the broader human rights situation in The Gambia,” Rice said in a statement. “We are deeply concerned about credible reports of torture, suspicious disappearances – including of two American citizens – and arbitrary detention at the government’s hands.”
Rice made the remarks in a statement one day before the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia, saying the remarks from Gambia President Yahya Jammeh underscore the need for continued efforts “to seek a world in which no one lives in fear of violence or persecution because of who they are or whom they love.”
Jemmeh, who’s been in power since 1994 and survived a coup attempt on December 30, issued a warning to gay men in the Wolof language during a recent rally in which he also threatened the political opposition, according to a translation of his remarks obtained by the international news agency Vice News.
“If you do it [in Gambia] I will slit your throat,” Jammeh reportedly said. “If you are a man and want to marry another man in this country and we catch you, no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it.”
The remarks are the latest action from the Gambia leader enabling anti-gay violence in the country. In October, Jemmeh signed into a law making “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by life in prison. As defined under the law, “aggravated homosexuality” includes “serial offenders” of homosexuality as well as engaging in homosexual conduct with a minor or while having HIV.
The national security adviser issues the statement one day after Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz had no comment during a news briefing on the Gambia president’s remarks on the basis that he didn’t want to “directly respond from here without having read them.”
Earlier this week, the Human Rights Campaign and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights wrote an open letter to Rice calling for a White House statement condemning the remarks, which the groups said would “help advance human rights in the country by exposing these ongoing injustices to the world and by standing on the side of ordinary Gambians who continue to advocate for accountability and justice in the country.”
Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization is happy with the statement issued on Saturday.
“We’re very gratified that she spoke out so forcefully against conduct that by any measure is completely unacceptable,” Sainz said.
Jeffrey Smith, an Africa specialist at the Robert Kennedy Center, also expressed gratitude over the condemnation of Gambia’s leader.
“Ambassador Rice’s timely statement strikes a nice balance by both condemning President Jammeh’s most recent and repugnant comments while also rightly linking them to the wider human rights crisis that has afflicted The Gambia under Jammeh’s two-decade reign,” Smith said.
But Smith said more action is needed from the Obama administration beyond strongly worded statements from the White House.
“It is also important to note, however, that strong denunciations from the White House, while certainly welcome, are not enough,” Smith said. “There must be consequences, and I hope this latest incident proves to the U.S. government that the time has come to issue visa bans and travel restrictions on The Gambia’s political leadership.”
The joint letter the groups wrote to Rice also calls for consideration of visa bans for Gambia leaders engaged in anti-LGBT conduct as well as review of military and security assistance with the country. A visa ban would have particular impact on Jemmeh because, as the Blade reported in March, Jemmeh owns a $3.5 million mansion in Maryland less than 20 miles from the White House.
In her statement, Rice says the Obama administration is “reviewing what additional actions are appropriate” to respond to the anti-LGBT atmosphere and human rights violations in the country. An administration official, who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity, said visa bans and changes to security and military assistance are among the things under review.
As Rice notes in her statement, the Obama administration has already taken action against Gambia for anti-gay activity. In December, the United States announced Gambia would be no longer eligible to take part in a duty-free trade program under the African Growth & Opportunity Act due to human rights concerns.
“We repeat our call for the Gambian government, and all governments, to lead inclusively, repudiate intolerance, and promote respect for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms of all people,” Rice concludes in statement.
SUSAN RICE’S FULL STATEMENT
Tomorrow, the international community will mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. This day and every day, the United States stands in solidarity with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and all those around the world who work to advance the unassailable principle that LGBT rights are human rights.
The recent unconscionable comments by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh underscore why we must continue to seek a world in which no one lives in fear of violence or persecution because of who they are or whom they love. We condemn his comments, and note these threats come amid an alarming deterioration of the broader human rights situation in The Gambia. We are deeply concerned about credible reports of torture, suspicious disappearances – including of two American citizens – and arbitrary detention at the government’s hands.
The United States in late 2014 acted on The Gambia’s crackdown against its LGBT community and wider human rights violations by ending trade preferences, and we are reviewing what additional actions are appropriate to respond to this worsening situation.
We repeat our call for the Gambian government, and all governments, to lead inclusively, repudiate intolerance, and promote respect for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms of all people.