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.