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Your job is to protect all citizens, Gambian leader told

Tony Grew June 11, 2008

A New York-based human rights group has said that the President of the Gambia is failing in his responsibility to ensure respect for the rights of all.

Earlier this month it was reported that President Yahya Jammeh turned on homosexuals and foreigners in an address at a victory celebration rally in Tallinding.

The Daily Observer said the President had issued:

“An ultimatum to homosexuals, drug dealers, thieves and other criminals, to leave the Gambia or face serious consequences if caught.”

Government officials have denied he made any threatening comments.

Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch, said:

“Neither religion nor culture can justify calls to mob violence and murder.

“To encourage attacks on a country’s population abdicates a leader’s most essential responsibility: ensuring respect for the rights of all.

“The president must unequivocally disavow the threat of arrests and violence, and work to change the law so that rights are respected.”

In the wake of the President Jammeh’s comments two Spanish tourists were arrested in the Gambia for allegedly trying to solicit gay sex from taxi drivers.

They were released after a few days in jail and left the country.

Earlier reports indicated that Juan Monpserratrusau, 54, and Pere Joan, 56, were to appear in court this week charged with attempting to commit an “unnatural offence,” contrary to Section 124 of the country’s Criminal Code.

However, it is thought the Spanish government intervened.

Nicola El Busto, an official at the Spanish embassy in the Gambia, confirmed the men had left the country last week.

In the wake of the Spanish arrests the Foreign Office updated its guidance for British visitors.

“Although there are no laws specifically covering homosexuality in the Gambia, the Gambian Criminal Code states that any person who has, or attempts to have, “carnal knowledge” of any person “against the order of nature” is guilty of a felony and could face imprisonment,” the guidance said.

“The Gambian courts may interpret homosexual acts as falling under this part of the Code.

“The Code also states that gross indecency between men, whether in public or private, is a felony and anyone committing this felony could face imprisonment.

“We have received reports that the police are actively enforcing this Code.”

HRW pointed out that the Gambia ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in June 1999 and acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1979.

Both protect the right to equality and non-discrimination.

The Gambia is a mostly Muslim nation of 1.7 million people punishes homosexual acts, even in private, with up to seven years in prison.

A former British colony, the country has been ruled by President Jammeh since a bloodless coup in 1994. He has won election to the post three times, most recently in 2006.

Last year he horrified scientists by announcing that he has developed a “miracle cure” for HIV/AIDS.

Hundreds of Gambians lined up to be “cured” by the President, who treated his patients by rubbing a mysterious herbal paste into their ribcages and then instructing them to swallow a bitter yellow drink, followed by two bananas.

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