October 2, 2017 at 11:12 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
U.S. opposes UN resolution against death penalty for same-sex relations

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The U.S. on Sept. 29, 2017, is among the countries that voted against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution with a provision condemning the use of the death penalty against those convicted of consensual same-sex sexual relations. (Photo by sanjitbakshi; courtesy Flickr)

The U.S. on Sept. 29 voted against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that includes a provision condemning the death penalty for those found guilty of committing consensual same-sex sexual acts.

The resolution — which Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia and Switzerland introduced — passed by a 27-13 vote margin.

Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Togo, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Slovenia, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Venezuela, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the U.K. supported the resolution. Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined the U.S. in opposing it.

Kenya, Nigeria, Tunisia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and Cuba abstained.

The resolution specifically condemns “the imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations” and expresses “serious concern that the application of the death penalty for adultery is disproportionately imposed on women.” It also notes “poor and economically vulnerable persons and foreign nationals are disproportionately subjected to the death penalty, that laws carrying the death penalty are used against persons exercising their rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion, and peaceful assembly and association, and that persons belonging to religious or ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented among those sentenced to the death penalty.”

ILGA in a press release noted Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia sought to amend the resolution and “dilute its impact.” These amendments failed, even though the U.S. supported two of them from Russia that stated the death penalty “does not per se mean a (human rights) violation, but may lead to . . . (human rights) violations” and “in some cases the (death penalty) leads to torture, rather than that many states hold that the (death penalty) is a form of torture.”

The U.S. also backed a proposed amendment from Egypt that stated “a moratorium (on the death penalty) should be a decision after domestic debate.” The U.S. abstained from voting on a proposed amendment from Saudi Arabia that said countries have the right to “develop their own laws and penalties (in accordance with international law.)”

A U.S. official told the Washington Blade on Tuesday the U.S. “did support language in the resolution against the discriminatory use of the death penalty based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, while also requesting changes to make the larger resolution in accordance with U.S. law” that says the death penalty is legal.

“Unfortunately, the main sponsors did not take those edits onboard, so we were unable to support the larger resolution, which called for a global moratorium on the death penalty, in spite of the fact that it included parts that we support,” said the official

The official said the U.S. “voted against” the final resolution “because of broader concerns with the resolution’s approach to condemning and abolishing the death penalty in all circumstances.”

“Capital punishment is legal in the United States,” the official told the Blade. “We reaffirm our longstanding position on the legality of the death penalty, when imposed and carried out in a manner consistent with a state’s international obligations. The United States supported some amendments and voted against others when the HRC considered this resolution.”

The U.S. in 2014 and 2016 also voted against U.N. death penalty resolutions.

U.S. officials insist vote not about LGBT rights.

Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sudan are among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual activity remains punishable by death. The so-called Islamic State has executed dozens of men in Iraq, Syria and Libya who were accused of committing sodomy.

“It is unconscionable to think that there are hundreds of millions of people living in states where somebody may be executed simply because of whom they love” said ILGA Executive Director Renato Sabbadini in a press release, referring to the resolution. “This is a monumental moment where the international community has publicly highlighted that these horrific laws simply must end.”

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert and other U.S. officials on Tuesday said the vote against the resolution was not about LGBT rights.

“There was a vote at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and we have seen a lot of reporting about that, press releases that have criticized the U.S. government’s vote at the Human Rights Council on the question of the death penalty,” Nauert told reporters at a State Department press briefing. “The headlines and much of the reporting that has come out of that has been misleading.”

“As our representative to the Human Rights Council said on Friday, last Friday, the United States is disappointed to have voted against that resolution,” she further noted. “We voted against that resolution because of broader concerns with the resolution’s approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances, and it called for the abolition of the death penalty altogether.”

“We had hoped for a balanced and inclusive resolution that would better reflect the positions of states that continue to apply the death penalty lawfully, as the United States does,” added Nauert. “The United States unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery and apostasy. We do not consider such conduct appropriate for criminalization.”

The vote took place nine days after Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacón and other world leaders attended a U.N. LGBT Core Group event that coincided with the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.

Kelly Currie, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, attended the event but did not speak. Former Vice President Biden is among those who spoke at last year’s U.N. LGBT Core Group event.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley in April said the U.S. remains “disturbed” by the ongoing crackdown against gay men and lesbians in Chechnya. Caitlyn Jenner in July met with Haley at her office in New York.

President Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia in May. He made no mention that consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death in the kingdom in a speech he gave in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

Trump has also not publicly commented on the ongoing crackdown against LGBT Chechens.

The U.S. and 24 other countries in 2014 voted for a resolution against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted. The body in 2011 narrowly approved a resolution in support of LGBT rights that South Africa introduced.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • I am quite surprised that the Philippines and South Korea abstained. I really thought those countries were more advanced than that. Any country that uses the death penalty for ANY crime (other than murder), should be condemned and should become an international pariah. The rest of the world should refuse to trade with such countries. As for Iran and Saudi Arabia, the democracies of the world should go FULL SPEED AHEAD on developing other sources of energy, rather than oil from those human rights violators. The democracies of the world need to get serious about this and set a deadline for getting completely off buying ANY oil or natural gas from ANY country that kills people for homosexuality or apostasy or adultery.

  • Wow…way for America to once again be a leader in the world. If you don’t believe it is unquestionable wrong to murder gay people, then you’re nothing but a barbaric talking monkey, uncivilized and unworthy to be a world leader. Disgusting and shameful! I’m ashamed of my country for this inhumanity. Japan…India…you also suck.

  • This is misleading. Te resolution was against the death penalty in general, which is why America abstained – our administration is pro-death-penalty.

    I am opposed to the death penalty, but can’t sit by while people are intentionally misled. It took several minutes of google-searching to find a link to the actual text of the resolution, which this page, and its PDF attachment, would have provided if they were truly interested in real journalism. I have provided it below.


    • Kurt R, you are correct. Thanks for the link. I’m tired of these misleading headlines in the gay media.

    • I too oppose any attempt to mislead the public. Happens too often. You did a good job.

    • I don’t think it was misleading.
      The ruling was for those countries who still use the health penalty to not use it for children, mentally incapable, women charged with adultery, and homosexuals. As an example of the wording:
      “Also urges States that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that it is not imposed as a sanction for specific forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations;”

      • Yes, there are several “alsos” – to imply it was a resolution targeted at any single one would be equally misleading.

        • No, it’s worse than the headline indicates: not just gays, but also many other people.
          Lost in this back and forth we’re having is that to be opposed to this is horrible; it’s not saying you can’t have the health penalty; just trying to ensure that other mitigating circumstances or non crimes not be punishable by death. The US is against that – horrible.

  • Ugh come on. Is the gay community really no better than Breitbart with its misleading clickbait headlines? Michael Lavers, we should strive do better as a community, please.

  • REALITY CHECK: >>>LGBT news outlets across the country have breathlessly reported that the Trump administration has given tacit consent to the killing of LGBT people, but is that framing correct? Is it true? No, it’s not. In fact, the Obama administration also voted against or abstained from voting on similar resolutions. The difference is those resolutions didn’t include sexual orientation specifically.

    In fact, as Buzzfeed points out, the United States has never supported any UN resolution that condemns the death penalty. The measure was far larger than “Don’t kill gay people please.” It goes so far as to acknowledge “the death penalty is a form of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and aptly points out that it is often used against political dissidents, the poor, people with disabilities, women, LGBT people, and people of a different religion than the authorities.

    13 countries voted against the resolution, including notoriously anti-LGBT states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and… Japan. Yes, not every country that voted against the resolution is anti-LGBT. While many are, what they all have in common is current support for the death penalty.

    The United States supported two amendments that Russia offered to the resolution – despite the country’s notorious crackdown on LGBT people and draconian laws that send people to prison for “gay propaganda.”

    The two resolutions stated that the death penalty “does not per se mean a (human rights) violation, but may lead to… (human rights) violations” and “in some cases the (death penalty) leads to torture, rather than that many states hold that the (death penalty) is a form of torture.”

    Groups like the Human Rights Campaign didn’t help with the misunderstanding by offering up statements that only leads to more confusion.

    “Ambassador Haley has failed the LGBTQ community by not standing up against the barbaric use of the death penalty to punish individuals in same-sex relationships,” Ty Cobb, director of Human Rights Campaign Global, said in an emailed statement. “While the UN Human Rights Council took this crucially important step, the Trump/Pence administration failed to show leadership on the world stage by not championing this critical measure. This administration’s blatant disregard for human rights and LGBTQ lives around the world is beyond disgraceful.”

    But in 2014, then-UN ambassador Keith Harper voted against a similar measure, saying, “International law does not prohibit capital punishment when imposed and carried out in a manner that is consistent with a state’s international obligations. We therefore urge all governments that employ the death penalty to do so in conformity with their international human rights obligations.”

    In the end, that’s all this resolution did as well. It pointed out that several countries discriminate when they choose to execute a prisoner and politely requested that those states who still use the death penalty be conscious of the implicit bias that permeates the entire endeavor.

    And if there’s one thing the US has always rejected – no matter the party in control of the White House – it’s the notion that we treat our prisoners horribly and apply punishments unfairly. See: People of color.

    Racial minorities are also included in the laundry list of people affected by the travesty that is state-sponsored execution, but black media outlets aren’t making the same outrageous claims that LGBT media is. But then again, most LGBT media outlets still have a hard time remembering there are queer people of color too.

    It’s easy to jump to conclusions and Trump is an easy target thanks to his own record. But let’s think big picture and realize this isn’t about ISIS throwing gay men off rooftops. This is about the United States government continuing to back its “right” to torture its citizens to death in the face of international disgust.<<< – Bil Browning, LGBTQ Nation.

  • “U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley in April said the U.S. remains ‘disturbed’ by the ongoing crackdown against gay men and lesbians in Chechnya,” But we wholeheartedly support murdering these blasphemers, since we in the evangelical movement in the U.S. still hope to crush these people who deliberately act different from us! We wish to remain close to other governments who, like Russia and Chechnya, hate people who love people that we don’t!

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