US Charge d’Affaires Speaks “US not pushing a lifestyle but calling on Gambia to respect Human Rights”


Ousman Sillah and Rohey Jadama The new Charge d’Affaires of the United States Embassy has denied theAmbassador George Staples claim that they are imposing homosexuality on The Gambia and rather maintained that they are calling on the government to respect human rights by not persecuting people for their sexual orientation and further take measures to prevent arbitrary arrests, detentions without trial, extra judicial executions and disappearances. Ambassador George Staples restated the position of the United States at an ‘on the record’ press conference with members of the independent media on Friday, 12 December, 2014 at the residence of the US Charge d’Affaires on Atlantic Road in Fajara. The new Charge d’Affaires said the statement from the US government is not imposing any lifestyle on the Gambian people but simply asking the government of the Gambia to respect and protect human rights. He said homosexuality is not the big issue in The Gambia but human rights abuses. On whether the concern on same sex relationship, being presented by some as a clash of civilization, is because it is a value shared by all Americans which they want to impose on the ‘rest of the world’ or is for the protection of the individual from any form of persecution, regardless of one’s sexual orientation, Ambassador Staples said not everybody in the US accepts same sex relationship, but that there are many men and women who have given their best to the US and have inalienable rights to be protected regardless of who they are. “They don’t have to go to jail for practicing such a lifestyle,” he added. The press conference came in the wake of the statement issued by the US government, read out on Gambian state television, and which expressed their deep concern over the continued reports of human rights abuses in The Gambia. The US statement cited concerns such as the denial of access of UN Special Rapporteurs investigating reports of torture and extra judicial executions, targeting of individuals for arrest and detention because of their sexual orientation, forced disappearance and arbitrary arrest of journalists, civil servants, etc., as well as the Gambia government’s failure to investigate the disappearance of two US citizens missing since June 2013. This development, however, prompted a protest march held in Banjul last week which was organized by the ruling APRC and involving some party supporters, civil servants and school children. On whether the US ignores its own shortcomings on human rights and focuses on those of other nations, as in the case of Guantanamo, Ambassador Staples responded that being a great nation, the US recognizes and accepts her mistakes and do try to address them.  “We do accept our mistakes. But tell me which other nation in Africa accepts its mistakes and rectify them,” challenged the US Charge d’Affaires. When asked why the US Embassy in The Gambia is now headed by a Charge d’Affaires and not an ambassador as has been the case before, he disclosed that someone was earlier nominated for the position but was rejected by the Gambia government and that they do not know why. He, however, expressed hope that the situation would change in the not too distant future when there will be a full fledge ambassador representing the US in the Gambia. The US chief of mission applauds the Gambia government for supporting the international fight against terrorism and providing troops for peace keeping. He described the US-Gambia relations as “still good”, adding that US is the best friend of the Gambia government and people. He cited the recent invitation of President Jammeh to attend the US-Africa summit in Washington as a testimony of the good relations that exist between the two countries. He said they want the very best of relations that would respect the sovereignty of Gambia. “But if your friend does not tell you that you are wrong, then who will?” he asked. The new US Charge d’Affaires emphasised that it is the Gambian people who should be in the forefront to strengthen the democratic process in The Gambia. He said the US has been supporting democracy related projects and will continue to do so as the elections get nearer to enable voters to make informed choices in free and fair elections. He said they will continue to support the strengthening of the institutions and processes of democracy and the rule of law without taking sides. Ambassador Staples said the ultimate decision to bring about political change in the Gambia lies with the Gambian people alone. “The Gambian people should be responsible for whatever change they want,” he said. The Charge d’Affaires said the role of US is advisory in terms of providing technical assistance for Gambians to be better trained in upholding and promoting democratic values through scholarship programs, judicial, parliamentary and media training and support, among others. On the continued disappearance of the two US citizens in The Gambia since the middle of last year, the Charge d’Affaires said it is the duty of the American government to protect American citizens wherever they are. “As far as I know they were picked up and disappeared and we have asked the Gambia government to investigate,” he said. He disclosed that they have even offered the services of the FBI  to help in locating these two US citizens but the Gambia government has still not responded positively to their request. He reminded that the US will always rescue her citizens at whatever cost.  “We will do anything to rescue them,” said Ambassador Staples. Commenting on the type of assistance the Gambia has been receiving from the US from 1994 to date, he said it is mainly in human resource development such as training for government officials, support to state institutions and non-governmental initiatives, media, civil society and local groups and communities.. Ambassador Staples, an American of African descent, decried the dependence of African governments on aid which, he said, is the main factor that is holding back the continent from developing. According to him, the cold war has contributed in engendering this dependence on aid as some African governments were playing off the two powers. He noted that it is the same that is now happening with China. “No country can develop on dependency on aid,” remarked the US Charge d’Affaires. He also equates the racism in America to the tribalism in Africa, adding that both issues are problems that need to be addressed. He said some leaders in Africa tend to put people from their own ethnic groups and political cronies to positions regardless of their competence. He also said that in Africa serving in the armed forces is not seen as an honour and patriotic duty to defend ones country, but a job for survival. The new Charge d’Affaires also applauded the Gambian media for their role in informing the public, noting that he reads the papers. He revealed to the media that he has not yet met with the president or any senior government official as well as other political and civic leaders. Ambassador Staples has been serving the US as Ambassador in three African countries, including Rwanda after the genocide, and has worked in many countries and traveled the whole continent.]]>