US removes Gambia from trade agreement over anti-gay law and other rights concerns

DAKAR, Senegal – Activists have praised the U.S. government’s decision to remove Gambia from a trade agreement in response to human rights abuses, including a law signed in October that imposes life imprisonment for some homosexual acts.

The White House announced Gambia’s termination as a beneficiary of the African Growth and Opportunity Act late Tuesday, without specifying a reason.

A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative said Wednesday that the decision was made in response to general concerns about human rights in the West African nation, including the anti-gay law.

“The U.S. Trade Representative has been monitoring the human rights situation in The Gambia for the past few years, with deepening concerns about the lack of progress with respect to human rights, rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process,” Trevor Kincaid said.

President Yahya Jammeh, who assumed power in 1994, is regularly criticized for abuses, including disappearances and executions. He is one of Africa’s most vocal anti-gay leaders and has previously threatened to behead sexual minorities found in his country.

Following signing of the anti-gay law in October, security forces carried out a spate of arrests targeting people accused of committing homosexual acts. State media said Monday that three more men were about to be charged.

Local organizations such as the Coalition for Change have praised the U.S. move, as has the U.S.-based Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights organization.

“This decision is an important first step in sending a clear signal to President Yahya Jammeh and his associates about their human rights record, and they cannot be allowed to trample on the rights of LGBT Gambians,” said Jean Freedberg, deputy director of HRC Global.

South Sudan was also removed from the trade agreement over human rights concerns related to that country’s ongoing conflict, Kincaid said.