By Omar Bah
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recommended to the government to take legal and other measures to protect the human rights and equal treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in the country.
In its 2019 report expected to be to be submitted to the National Assembly today and seen by The Standard, NHRC urged the government “to deepen efforts to combat acts of discrimination and violence against LGBT persons and create a culture of tolerance for diversity and differences”.
“As the primary duty bearer for the respect and protection of the human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, tribe, sex, religious or other status, the state has the obligation to fight impunity, discrimination, violence, bullying and human rights violation perpetrated against every person living in The Gambia, including the LGBT community. It also should create the environment for everyone to enjoy his or rights and to protect members of the LGBT community from physical injury or psychological harm, injury or abuse by other sections of the society,” the NHRC said.
It said the LGBT community in The Gambia “endured harsh treatment, arrest, violence and intimidations”during the Jammeh years and that “since the defeat of dictatorship in 2016, the climate of fear and impunity under which the LGBT community used to live has receded to the rear.”
It further reported that “while there is still perceptible public animosity against LGBTs, the state has so far respected the rights of this specific minority group [and] since 2017, has not been subjected to state sponsored or approved intimidation or arrest”.
In an interview with The Standard yesterday, commission chairman Emmanuel Joof told The Standard: “As a chairman, I will refuse to be pushed like Yahya Jammeh who actually reduced human rights to gay rights. This is what Jammeh was doing as he was abusing the rights of Gambians; he was shouting that it was all about gay rights. But the NHRC stands for non-discrimination. We are not going to be cornered to talk about only one particular right as if human rights are gay rights. We will not allow the far right or the far left to put us in a corner.”
A statement by the European Union office in The Gambia suggesting its commitment to protect gay rights in The Gambia last month sparked controversy and even condemnations from Gambians, among them political leaders.
Last year, The Gambia government categorically stated in its submission to the 34thsession of the UN Human Rights Council Working Group that it has no plans to decriminalise same-sex marriage.
It is an offence in The Gambia to commit “unnatural offences” or homosexual acts. Section 144 (1) of the Criminal Code stipulates a punishment of 14 years imprisonment for anyone convicted of sodomy in The Gambia.
The “Criminal Code (Amendment Act) 2014” was passed in the National Assembly on 9th October 2014, stipulating a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for the offence of “aggravated homosexuality” and other penalties for certain homosexual acts.
The NHRC report also called for the repealing of the death penalty and its reference in the Constitution, Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code be removed.
It urged the government, as a matter of urgency, to pass into law the Anti-Corruption Commission Bill, establish the Anti-Corruption Commission and fully implement the Janneh Commission’s Report recommendations.
The commission also encouraged government to support the TRRC complete its mandate, take interim measures to ensure that all the recommendations of the truth commission are implemented, ensure that human rights violations perpetuated during the former regime are remedied and appropriate actions taken and prosecute all those accused of committing gross human rights violations.
It also recommended government to respect the fundamental rights of everyone including the right to practise any religion and to manifest such practice.