DAKAR – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised Senegal's criminalization of homosexuality during his visit to the West African nation on Wednesday, but Senegal's leader told journalists afterward that “we're comfortable with our laws.”
The exchange between Trudeau and Senegalese President Macky Sall highlighted the impasse the United States, Canada and other Western nations have had in persuading Senegal and most African countries not to jail gays and lesbians.
Trudeau told journalists he was “a great defender of human rights” and so had to raise the issue.
"We've talked about it, and we know that Senegal is a leader in terms of democracy and in terms of values. But we all have work to do. In any case, we've had good discussions with Macky Sall," Trudeau said at a new conference in the capital of Dakar.
Senegal is a moderate, predominantly Muslim nation where homosexuality is criminalized and punishable by up to five years in prison. Prosecution are rare but discrimination in the country's traditional communities runs deep. The bodies of gay men have even been dug out of Muslim cemeteries after their families had laid them to rest there.
The Senegalese president said his country respected human rights but he emphasized that no changes on laws regarding homosexuality would be forthcoming.
“We cannot ask Senegal to legalize homosexuality and organize tomorrow's Gay Pride,” he said. “It is not possible. Our society does not accept it.”
"It is our way of living and being. It has nothing to do with homophobia," he added.
Trudeau spent Wednesday meeting with Senegal's president and visiting Goree Island, a site often frequented by visiting Western leaders because of its historical significance as a place where African slaves were forced to depart for the New World.
On Thursday, he plans to meet with university students and tour an aid project before departing Senegal. During his talks with the president, he also won support for Canada's bid to win a seat on the U.N. Security Council.
“Canada will have Senegal's support,” Sall told journalists. “We need Canada's voice at the Security Council. Canada is a country of diplomacy. Canada is not difficult to support."
Norway and Ireland are also part of a three-way race for two seats on the Security Council for 2021-22 from the Western group.
Associated Press writers Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.