The Hidden Human Rights Crisis in Gambia
April 21, 2015
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Since a 1994 coup in Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh has ruled over an extremely repressive regime that is known to have committed acts such as imprisonment of dissenters, torture, forced disappearance, and has passed laws targeting LGBT people. The suppressive legislation and the human rights abuses have been very well documented, however, President Jammeh does not seem to face a lot of international pressure, and his situation is certainly not comparable to that of President Bashir of Sudan, who has committed similar atrocities. A recent Foreign Affairs article highlights the fact that Jammeh has remained “in the good graces” of the international community, and he even travelled to Washington, DC in August of last year, to attend the US-Africa Summit.
As a result of the increasing transparency of these crimes Jammeh has been the focus of several sanctions, however. The article notes that Gambia has been dropped from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and the European Union suspended $200 million in aid because of the anti-homosexuality legislation. Unfortunately, this has not had the desired effect on the Jammeh regime, as change has yet to be seen. This situation is a good indicator as to what the difference is between international pressure, like sanctions, and concrete action, with regards to deterrence.
In December of 2014 there was an alleged coup attempt on Jammeh, since then both the US and Gambia have taken action. The US has charged several Gambian Americans under the Neutrality Act, for their part in the attempted coup, while Gambia sentenced several others to death with a “secret military court”. To be sure, the Gambian Americans charged in the US will receive fair trials, but the implications of this situation extend far beyond that. On the one hand, the US has tacitly supported the Gambian government by charging people who participated in the attempted coup. On the other hand, these trials are a way for the US to continue its human rights rhetoric and to say that justice was done in a fair and proper manner, without having to take action against the Jammeh regime.