DAKAR (Reuters) - Gambia’s foreign minister said the West African country would sever all dialogue with the European Union and rejected what he said were attempts by the bloc to use its aid budget to force Gambia to revoke a tough new law against homosexuality.
Foreign Minister Bala Garba Jahumpa said that President Yahya Jammeh - a former military officer who seized power in a 1994 coup - would not allow foreign nations to use aid to impose policies on his government.
Jammeh signed legislation last month that introduced the crime of ‘aggravated homosexuality’, making it punishable in some cases with life in prison. The definition covers cases such as homosexual relations with someone under the age of 18, or a person with HIV having homosexual sex.
The crackdown comes as the European Union is due to decide in December whether to release 150 million euros ($186 million) worth of development aid to Gambia, a matter that has been up for debate because of its poor human rights record.
“Gambia’s government will not tolerate any negotiation on the issue of homosexuality with the EU or any international block or nation,” Jahumpa told state television.
“We are no longer going to entertain any dialogue with the EU either directly or through sub-regional, regional and international blocks to which we are members.”
Jahumpa said homosexuality was ‘ungodly’ and against African tradition, and said Gambia would work with other countries on the continent to oppose it.
Disapproval of homosexuality is widespread across most of socially conservative sub-Saharan Africa.
Lawmakers in Uganda have said they will pass a revised anti-gay law by Christmas that will punish gay sex with long prison terms, after an earlier version was quashed because of legal technicalities.
Zeid Ra‘ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has said Gambia’s new law violates fundamental human rights and has called for its repeal. Rights watchdog Amnesty International says more than a dozen people have already been arrested under the law.
In a heated statement, Jahumpa accused European governments of allowing thousands of African migrants to die attempting to reach the bloc, dubbing it a ‘racist genocide’.
He said Gambia would not participate in the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) to open up West African economies to free trade with the European Union.
“The Gambia will never be a party to the so called Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union as it is designed to continue the same exploitation and impoverishment of the African continent,” he said.
“We will rather die then be colonized twice.”
Reporting by Pap Saine; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Rosalind Russell