By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Gambia's president warned the United Nations General Assembly on Friday that gays were a threat to human existence, along with excessive greed and obsession with world domination, and criticized other countries for regarding homosexuality as a human right.
"Those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence," Gambian President Yahya Jammeh told the gathering of world leaders in New York. "It is becoming an epidemic and we Muslims and Africans will fight to end this behavior."
"Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which, though very evil, antihuman as well as anti-Allah, is being promoted as a human right by some powers," said Jammeh, who is accused by activists of human rights abuses during his rule.
Jammeh came to power in the West African country in a bloodless military coup in 1994. One of Africa's more controversial rulers, Jammeh said in 2007 he had found a remedy of boiled herbs to cure AIDS, stirring anger among experts who said he was giving false hope to the sick.
Andre Banks, executive director of global gay rights group All Out, said Jammeh's remarks were "paranoid and disturbing." "In his list of the world's greatest threats, the President left one out - intolerance," Banks said in a statement.
The United States, France, Argentina, Japan, Brazil and other countries urged the 193-members of the United Nations on Thursday to repeal laws that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, who are victims of widespread rights abuses.
"In too many places around the world, LGBT persons are still punished for simply exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a meeting of the so-called lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Core Group at the United Nations, which also includes Croatia, El Salvador, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway.
At the end of the meeting the group released a statement calling for countries to "repeal discriminatory laws, improve responses to hate-motivated violence, and ensure adequate and appropriate legal protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity."
A 2011 U.N. study found that more than 76 countries criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults, while in many more countries discrimination is widespread and hate-motivated violence has been reported around the globe.
"Not a week goes by without my office receiving reports of brutal violence and intimidation, police harassment and widespread discriminatory treatment affecting LGBT people around the world," U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said.
Pillay also said that those speaking out in defense of LGBT people "risk persecution and assault and even, in some countries, legal sanctions."
Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth attended the U.N. meeting and described it as a landmark commitment to ending persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity. He said the challenge now was to turn that into action.
"LGBT people exist everywhere. The only question is whether they can enjoy the same human rights as everyone else, or whether governments impose bigoted views to deny them those rights," Roth said.