The US charge d’affaires, Ambassador George Staples, has clarified that the United States is not trying to foist homosexuality on The Gambia while buttressing his country’s respect for The Gambia’s sovereignty. Meeting editors at his residence in Fajara on Friday afternoon, the new head of mission at the US Embassy in The Gambia was asked by The Standard editor Sainey Darboe about the recent heightening of anti-homosexuality rhetoric and criticism levelled at the US for perceived interference in the domestic affairs of The Gambia.
In reply, Ambassador Staples stated: “Here is my answer to that and I am glad you asked that question so that I can set the record straight with all of you. You have seen the statement put up by the National Security Council [of the US]. Is that statement pushing a lifestyle onto The Gambia or any other country? The answer is no. What it talked about, what we talk about, not just in The Gambia but around the world, is respect for human rights. We are not pushing a lifestyle – in this case homosexuality or anything else or saying this is how The Gambia should be and this is what Gambians should do. Not at all. We simply say there are all kinds of people in this world that have all kinds of lives and as human beings we should respect each other. I don’t know of any country in the world that has brought out a law saying that people who have a certain type of lifestyle should face life imprisonment. Life in prison is what people get for murder; killing a child not for something like this [homosexuality]. And I would say that all of you in the media need to take a look at how you report this. The USA is not pushing a kind of lifestyle on The Gambia. We are pushing mutual respect, respect for human rights and recognition that people, however they live, should be treated with dignity. That’s all. If you look at the rest of the statement it is not just about the homosexual matter”.
“It was about arbitrary arrests and detention. In this beautiful country where we have had a relationship going back well over a hundred years – in my wall I have a document accrediting a vice-councillor in 1881 – in this special country with such long ties of friendship, it should not be the place where people live in some cases worrying about a knock on the door late at night. And you might be taken off to jail where – forget about 72 hours – you may not be heard from again for 720 hours or for 7 years. Anything could happen. That is not the way that I know people should live and be treated. The Gambia is not a country of the former Soviet bloc. It is a free country and what we consider in many, many ways democratic and a friend of the US. If you looked at that statement it talked about arbitrary arrest and detention. We are concerned about that. We are not singling out The Gambia. We have expressed those concerns everywhere. And this is not new. This is not new news. If you look at our previous human rights reports and so forth, we have expressed these concerns many times. So take a look at our statement, take a look at our position and what we stand for in this world. And that is what it means. It is not pushing a certain kind of lifestyle”, he buttressed.
Reminded that the US is not practising what it preaches about human rights in other countries with the Guantanamo Bay detention centre among other violations, the veteran career diplomat averred: “Around the world, especially this week, there are reports about the senate investigations report. We are a big enough nation to recognise that we have made mistakes and to admit it publicly and to release a public report and be criticised. We are big enough to do that. Tell me another country especially in Africa willing to do that? Give me the name of a country willing to have its leadership – from the president on down – go to people and say we made mistakes, we are correcting them, we are gonna learn from them and do things differently? Where are you gonna find that? So it is not whether you have the right to criticise. If you care about human rights and human decency, then you do speak up. And even when you make mistakes, you admit it, learn from it and move on. That’s pretty special and I wish one country in Africa will be that special.”
Ambassador Staples said the US government and its people are the best friends The Gambia has and that when they level criticisms against issues in The Gambia, they express them as friends.