Senegal criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a fine.
Types of criminalisation
- Criminalises LGBT people
- Criminalises sexual activity between males
- Criminalises sexual activity between females
- Criminalises the gender expression of trans people
Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Criminal Code 1934, which criminalises acts of ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’, ‘gross indecency’, and since 2014, ‘aggravated homosexuality’. The law carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Both men and women are criminalised under this law. In addition to potentially being captured by laws that criminalise same-sex activity, trans people may also face prosecution under a ‘rogues and vagabonds’ law with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.
The law was inherited from the British during the colonial period, in which the English criminal law was imposed upon The Gambia. It has retained the provision upon independence and continues to criminalise same-sex sexual activity today, repeatedly increasing the scope of the law and the penalties available.
There is substantial evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, with LGBT people being subject to arbitrary arrest and torture in detention. Former President Yahya Jammeh expressed increasingly hostile views about LGBT during his tenure and oversaw a number of crackdowns on the LGBT community. His successor, Adama Barrow, has signalled a less hostile attitude towards LGBT people and there appear to be fewer arrests in recent years, however he has indicated that there is no plan to repeal the laws. There have been consistent reports of strong societal discrimination against LGBT people in The Gambia.
The government denied reports that it was considering repealing or reviewing criminalising laws in exchange for foreign aid.
Despite the ousting of former President Yahya Jammeh in 2017, who was a vocal and vitriolic opponent of LGBT rights, new President Adama Barrow dismissed calls to decriminalise same-sex sexual activity, citing more pressing issues.
In 2014 an amendment to the Criminal Code was passed which introduced the offence of ‘aggravated homosexuality’, in which people living with HIV who engage in same-sex sexual activity, and ‘serial offenders’, can be imprisoned for life.
In 2013 an amendment to the Criminal Code was passed under which gender expression can be penalised by up to five years imprisonment.
We’ve also assessed The Gambia’s sexual offence laws against international human rights standards. Not only does The Gambia criminalise same-sex sexual activity and expression of gender identity, it also fails to properly protect other vulnerable groups, such as women, children, and people with disability, from sexual offences.
Enhanced Criminalisation in the Gambia
The Human Dignity Trust has analysed the implications of the 2014 Criminal Code (Amendment) Act. Read our briefing on how this law further criminalises LGBT people and other marginalised groups.Find out more
The 2020 US Department of State report found that the law was rarely enforced, but did highlight a case of a Senegalese national being arrested for engaging in same-sex sexual activity with another adult.
In January, Amnesty International reported on at least eight arrests as part of a police crackdown of the LGBT community which began in November 2017. Three women, four men, and a 17-year-old boy were arrested in two incidents by the National Intelligence Agency and Presidential Guards in Banjul. They all were investigated for the crimes of homosexuality, and reported being beaten and tortured in detention, and denied access to lawyers.
In May, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions reported, following a mission to the Gambia, that the approval of the 2014 amendment was followed by rounds of arrests and prosecutions of LGBT people.
Amnesty International also reported on a police crackdown of LGBT people in November 2014. This wave resulted in eight arrests, and detainees were allegedly tortured.
In April, 18 men and two women were arrested and charged with ‘attempt to commit unnatural offences’. They were attending a dance and allegedly dressed in clothing suitable for women. They were jailed for over a month before being released, and the charges were eventually dropped.
The US Department of State reports, including in 2022, have consistently found that there is strong societal discrimination against LGBT people.
In July, the leader of the opposition party Gambia Action Party (not represented in parliament), called for tougher enforcement of laws against homosexuality in the country, promising ‘zero tolerance’ if elected to form the government.
The 2013 UK Country of Origin report on The Gambia references an article written about people put on trial for homosexuality which collapsed due to lack of evidence: “the defendants still have the stigma of being ‘outed’ as homosexual, having had their photographs published along with their names. This has led to retribution from the general public and also from some of the defendant’s family who feel that they have dishonoured them.” One man identified in the article discussed his parents’ attempts to force him into an arranged marriage.
Guinea criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a fine.
Mauritania criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of death by stoning.
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