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U.S. drops Gambia from trade agreement in response to anti-LGBT crackdown

The United States announced Tuesday that it had dropped Gambia from a free trade agreement in response to human rights concerns and the recent targeting of LGBT people under a new law that could send some LGBT Gambians to prison for life.

Gambia President Yahya Jammeh
Gambia President Yahya Jammeh

BuzzFeed News reports that the decision to drop the small West African nation from special trade status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000 (AGOA) came late Tuesday, just after media in the Gambia announced that three men had been arrested and accused of homosexuality.

The men are the first to face trial since police began arresting people on allegations of homosexuality in November. At least 16 others are alleged to be in detention.

Although the White House gave no specific reason for removing Gambia from the trade agreement, 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.

Under the AGOA trade arrangement, Gambia had been exporting about $37 million in goods to the United States each year duty-free.

The Human Rights Campaign called the action “an important first step in sending a clear signal to Jammeh and his associates about their human rights record, and they cannot be allowed to trample on the rights of LGBT Gambians.”

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The new law, which went into effect Oct. 9, criminalizes “aggravated homosexuality,” which targets “serial offenders” and people living with HIV or AIDS.

Suspects can also be charged with aggravated homosexuality for engaging in homosexual acts with someone who is under 18, disabled or who has been drugged. The term also applies when the suspect is the parent or guardian of the other person or is “in authority over” him or her.

The law contains language identical to an anti-gay bill signed into law in Uganda this year that was later overturned by a court.

People found guilty of aggravated homosexuality in Gambia can be sentenced to life in prison.

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

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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