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U.S. Drops The Gambia From Popular Trade Agreement Over Increasing Unjust Treatment Of LGBT People

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On Tuesday the U.S. dropped The Gambia from a popular free trade agreement, the African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000, in response to the country's crackdown on LGBT rights and other human rights concerns reports BuzzFeedThe decision comes after The Gambia announced that three men would be put on trial for homosexuality; the three men are the first to face trial since police began arresting people on allegations of homosexuality in November. Currently 16 others are held in detention, leaving Gambian human rights activists unsure if the captives are even still alive. Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House, emailed BuzzFeed regarding the situation.

Said Price:

"The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) 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.

"In addition, in October, Gambian President Jammeh signed into law legislation that further restricts the rights of LGBT individuals, including life imprisonment for so-called ‘aggravated homosexuality.’ Reports have surfaced of arrests, detention, and torture of individuals because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity."

Gambian human rights activists secured meetings with high-ranking U.S. officials after several unsuccessful years trying to get the State Department to respond to the terrible human rights record of President Yahya Jammeh. With the help of the Human Rights Campaign, activists believe the Obama administration is finally regarding them as a force in influencing U.S. foreign policy.

The meeting earlier this month that was held with Gambian human rights activists and White House officials was the first time they met with someone from the State Department regarding Jammeh's human rights record. Under the AGOA trade agreement, The Gambia was exporting an estimated $37 million in goods to the U.S. each year, duty-free. The U.S. essentially expelled The Gambia from the special trade status. This marks the first significant time the U.S. revoked trade status with an African nation, except when a government was overthrown in a coup according to statements from Jeffrey Smith, the advocacy officer with the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights. Sudan was also dropped from the agreement for refusing to move toward peaceful solutions however, the country does not have any significant trade between itself and the U.S. 


Zimbabwean LGBT Volunteer Organization Attacked During Group Event

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A group of men armed with guns, iron bars, and other blunt objects assaulted and injured some thirty-five attendees of a function organized by the Gays And Lesbians of Zimbabwe, a community volunteering group. According to GALZ’s account of the events, between 12 and 15 men stormed their way into the gathering in an orchestrated display of anti-LGBT violence, “demanding cash and gadgets from the members present in the hall whilst attacking them.”

GALZ is likening the attack to a “militia acting on someone’s superior orders to orchestrate violence,” and many signs point to Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who is no friend of the gays. In a similar show of violence, the youth division of the Mugabe-aligned Zanu-PF party stormed GALZ’s offices in 2013.

“President Mugabe’s rhetoric has created a climate and culture of impunity and lawlessness,” GALZ intoned. “As evidenced by the actions of these thuggish men to hunt down LGBTI people in our communities, vicinities, and homes to inflict harm.”


Ugandan Parliament Adjourns for the Year Without Passing Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Ugandan parliamentary member Latif Ssebaggala’s attempt at pushing through a revised version of the country’s draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill has stalled after running into significant political hurdles, Buzzfeed reports.

MuseveniEarlier this year Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni first signed into law an earlier version of the bill that mandated heavy jail time and fines for Ugandan citizens found engaging in homosexual acts. In August, the law was repealed due to a parliamentary technicality that invalidated its initial passing. Ssebaggala spearheaded the effort to reintroduce a revised version of the bill almost immediately.

"The draft is ready and we have strengthened the law, especially in areas of promotion and luring children,” he told Reuters in November. “Next week we expect to meet the speaker to fix a date for the re-tabling to parliament."

The roadblocks facing the revised bill are complex and larger than Uganda’s social views on homosexuality. In August, facing economic backlash from countries that provide aid to Uganda, President Museveni endeavored his cabinet to reconsider their positions on the bill. A revised version, it was suggested, should focus more on the protection of children and the disabled, rather than expressly criminalizing homosexuality.

Though Museveni called for the new bill to forego punishing consenting gay adults, Ssebaggala’s new bill more or less featured a more intense set of legal consequences for gay people. Though Ssebaggala insisted that a new bill would be passed in time for Christmas, it would appear as if Museveni’s personal political machinations are standing in the way.

In February, after the initial passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, foreign aid from the U.S. and the World Bank were suspended and drastically cut, severely wounding Uganda’s governmental finances. Museveni, who has been Uganda’s president for the past three decades, is up for election once again in 2016.

Historically Museveni has always poured massive amounts of Western money into projects meant to please voters in the months leading up to elections. In short, he can’t afford to lose Western aid in the near future for fear of risking his position, and wholeheartedly backing a new Anti-Homosexuality bill would do just that.


Thousands Take Part In Gambian Anti-Gay March - VIDEO

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Thousands of people took part in an anti-gay protest in The Gambia last Tuesday.

GambiaDemonstrators were joined by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who earlier this year signed a new law imposing life imprisonment for homosexual acts. Last month, the Gambian government said it would never allow the acceptance of gay rights to be a precondition for accepting Western aid.

According to the report on AllAfrica, protesters denounced “attempts by outside forces - development partners - who advocate for homosexuality and lesbianism; vices forbidden by the laws of The Gambia.”

Those demonstrating are said to have carried placards with messages including "Homosexuality is Inhuman", "Even cows don't do it!" and "Homosexuality is forbidden in Islam".

The cow argument is not new: Uganda's First Lady Janet Museveni said earlier this year that humans shouldn't be homosexual because cows arent. .  Of course, cows can be gay as can many other animals.

A petition read by the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Lands and Regional Government Saihou Sanyang read in part:

"Your Excellency Mr. President, it goes without saying that our intolerance with the unnatural and abominable malpractices of homosexuality and lesbianism on the one hand, and the other, our government's position are not negotiable.

It is on the basis of such religious, social, moral and ethical upbringing built on high moral grounds that we stand by our government's position to zero tolerance to either homosexuality or lesbianism or both. There shall not be any turning point and that the people are ready for eventuals in good defence of the people and country's independence".

One protester brought up the animal issue again, saying "The Gambia is a decent country of decent people. Man to man marriage or woman to woman marriage will not be accepted because it is not acceptable by our tradition and cultures. Even animals know that it is not decent".

Watch The Young Turks discuss Jammeh's threat to catch and kill Gambians seeking asylum from persecution, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Thousands Take Part In Gambian Anti-Gay March - VIDEO" »


Head Of U.S. Agency For International Development Says Human Rights 'Essential' In Fight Against HIV/AIDS

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 1.01.30 PMRajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, linked human rights to the fight against HIV/AIDS during remarks he made during a World AIDS Day forum reports the Washington BladeThe forum highlighted a USAID-backed initiative through President Obama's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to combat the global epidemic among gay men, transgender people and other affected groups. 

Said Shah:

"Getting to where we need to go to a genuine AIDS-free generation will perhaps require even more determination, innovation and capacity to link the fight against HIV and AIDS to a broad range of critical issues, including the very basic and unassailable fight for human rights for all individuals.

"The only way to achieve the end goal of an AIDS-free generation is to more systematically embrace and empower this broader range of partners in this fight."

George Ayala, the executive director of the Global Forum on MSM and HIV, said that the U.S., Canada, Russia and Australia are among 61 countries with laws that criminalize people who have the virus. Lisa Carty, the director of the U.S. Liaison Office of U.N. AIDS, added that an estimated 80 countries have a policy or statute that, "Is a barrier to the communities we care about to get the services they need."

The State Department announced on Monday a $210 million public-private partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates and Nike Foundations through PEPFAR that is designed to lower new HIV infections in girls and women in 10 countries; an additional $116.5 million is going toward African nations' healthcare systems as well. However, the Associate Press reported that USAID hired nearly a dozen men from three Latin American countries to undermine the Cuban government through an HIV prevention workshop, among other means. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, expressed dismay about the actions of USAID in the matter.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 1.05.05 PMSaid Lee:

"I am appalled by recent reports that the U.S. government orchestrated and funded clandestine democracy promotion efforts under the guise of public health and civic programs.

"I am particularly concerned by the revelation that HIV-prevention programs were used as a cover. This blatant deception undermines U.S. credibility abroad and endangers U.S. government supported public health programs, which have saved millions of lives in recent years around the world." 

Shah made no references to Cuba in his speech. The head of international development continued to discuss helping marginalized populations and linked human rights to national security.

Said Shah:

"Efforts that we will discuss today and take forward will help not only address HIV in marginalized populations, but will help society after society through that experience recognize that the universal reach of human rights is in our collective social and national security interest."


Gambian Activists Scold U.S. For Ignoring Atrocities Unrelated To LGBT Rights

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Representatives of the Civil Society Associations Gambia and other advocates for Gambian human rights gathered in Washington, D.C. last week to implore the U.S. government to redouble its supposed commitment to supporting the West African nation. In recent months there’s been a spike of Western attention that many of the activists attributed to the rise of visibly anti-LGBT sentiment within Gambia.

Officially the United States State Department has publicly condemned Gambian president Yahya Jammeh for passing a law that criminalizes “aggravated homosexuality.” The Gambian government, however, has expressed its intentions to continue its crusade against queer individuals regardless of aid cuts or retaliation from the West.

Banka Manneh of the Civil Society Associations Gambia spoke at a panel held at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights to voice his concerns about the U.S.’s inconsistent attention. While the media attention towards Jammeh’s discriminatory laws has been well intentioned, many feel that it belies the seeming blind eye that’s been turned to other Gambian atrocities committed against non-LGBT people.

“In all these years of efforts to go to the state department, going to all these different levels in the U.S. government lobbying and lobbying for them to do something about the Gambia, we haven’t been having any traction at all,” said Manneh. “All of sudden they arrest these 15 gays and lesbians, and we’re seeing really what seems to be a firestorm.”

Jammeh’s “aggravated homosexuality” law bears a number of parallels with Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, and has similarly captured the attention of the world press for its severity. As horrific as Jammeh’s avowal to hunt down Gambia’s LGBT population may sound, however, they are not uncharacteristic of the dictator’s generally oppressive politics.

“What we are hoping is that this could be a catalyst - maybe this could be a wake up call,” Manneh said. “Maybe [the U.S. has] been asleep all this time. If this serves that purpose, that would be awesome because then it benefits the LGBT community and the regular Gambians.”


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