I’ve been reading reports across the Internet that the United Nations Human Rights Council recently passed a resolution internationally condemning the death penalty as a punishment for a variety of reasons, including its use in some countries against consensual same-sex couples. The USUN (United States Mission to the UN) chose to vote against this resolution, and for obvious reasons, has come under harsh criticism from multiple media outlets for being seen as saying that same-sex couples can be legally sentenced to death.
The criticism has been challenged by Nikki Haley, the current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., and Heather Nauert, the Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State.
While media outlets have condemned the U.S.’s vote, Nauert argued that this country is against using the death penalty on individuals based on their sexual orientation.
Like Pink News reported on the issue, it’s important to note that the goal of the resolution wasn’t specifically focused on protecting consensual same-sex couples from suffering the death penalty, but also a number of other categories, such as:
- Mentally Ill Individuals
- Pregnant Women
According to this chart from the ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association), of the 47 countries that comprise the UNHRC, the final vote on the resolution was divided as follows:
- Côte d’Ivoire
- South Africa
- El Salvador
- United Kingdom
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
- United States
- Republic of Korea
With a vote of 27-13, the resolution passed.
What Excuse is There?
Buzzfeed provided an insightful article on why the U.S. voted the way it did. According to that article, in 2014, the Obama administration abstained on a similar death penalty resolution; however, it’s important to keep in mind that the 2014 resolution was lacking the same-sex language provided in this one.
Further insight was provided by Independent’s coverage on this issue. According to their article, the U.S. supported two proposed but failed amendments to the resolution provided by Russia. These amendments stated that the death penalty is neither a human rights violation nor a form of torture, although the second amendment admitted that in regards to torture, it can happen.
Russia’s proposed amendments might come as no surprise after the world learned of the horrors in Chechnya, where gay men were sent to vile concentration camps to be beaten and tortured for their sexuality. As the New York Times reported back in April, the UNHRC demanded that Russia do its part to end the unlawful persecution happening there, but it is doubtable that the demand was taken seriously. Perhaps the amendments Russia proposed were a hint that the nation still hasn’t owned up to the violence it allowed.
The Independent article took care to point out the words of Nauert:
“The United States voted against this resolution because of broader concerns with the resolution’s approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances and calling for its abolition.
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 criminalisation and certainly not crimes for which the death penalty would be lawfully available as a matter of international law.”
The U.S.’s Failure
The U.S. should’ve taken more care with their vote on this resolution, knowing what’s happened in regards to the domestic and international gay community within the last year alone. This vote against the resolution which was partially written to address crimes against gay men and women around the world is likely to inflame the distrust that we American LGBTQ individuals currently feel for the current administration, especially after Trump’s desire to remove trans individuals from the military.
The American LGBTQ community is still shaken by the violence that occurred during the Pulse nightclub massacre, where a gunman wiped out the lives of nearly 50 LGBTQ persons and allies. That tragedy helped prompt the U.N. to appoint an independent expert to investigate global violence against LGBTQ people. However, to the chagrin of many, disproving members of the U.N. attempted to suspend the expert, Dr. Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand, from doing his job by pushing for a determining vote. While the effort ultimately failed, it stirred the anger of the previous U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, who said the following back in December 2016, in regards to the amendment seeking Dr. Muntarbhorn’s removal :
“The proponents of the amendment argue in their explanatory note that their reason for seeking a delay was that ‘there is no international agreement on the definition of the concept of sexual orientation and gender identity.’ That is patently false. The issue of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is well established and well understood.
“In reality, this amendment has little to do with questions around the definition of sexual orientation and gender identity. Instead, this amendment is rooted in a real disagreement over whether people of a certain sexual orientation and gender identity are, in fact, entitled to equal rights. And it is being driven by a group of U.N. member states that believe it is acceptable to treat people differently because of who they are or who they love.”
The former Ambassador referenced the horror of the Pulse shooting when she asked the following important question to the rest of the assembly:
“Tell me, why would any member state stand in the way of trying to prevent violence like the attack at that Orlando nightclub?”
With the vote that was cast against this resolution, the U.S. unwittingly cast its lot with the states that Power addressed with the above question. Even the knowledge that this resolution was written with inclusive language to protect gay individuals around the world didn’t stop the U.S. from changing its stance.
To be blunt, I have no pity for the criticism that Nikki Haley and others are now facing because of the poorly chosen vote the USUN cast against the resolution. The fact that none of the categories listed in the resolution, besides the obvious consensual same-sex couples one, was enough to make the U.S. change its mind sickens me. For crying out loud, how does one not care about pregnant women being executed? Especially when an unborn child would be cruelly punished?
Maybe this nation has an unhealthy obsession with preserving the death penalty. Heather Nauert stated that because this resolution was focused on completely removing the death penalty as a legal punishment, the U.S. chose to vote against it. I’m disappointed that a more global perspective wasn’t used to see that unlawful instances of the death penalty need to be halted.
This was a mistake that will likely further damage the credibility of the U.S. Government in the eyes of the LGBTQ community and its allies. There have been rumors that Trump is following Putin’s way of governing, and with the U.S. vote against this resolution, while also supporting Russia’s questionable amendments on it, I can understand why those rumors are still running.
I don’t believe that the Trump administration has the LGBTQ community’s best interests at heart. In fact, I don’t see him having any minority group’s best interests at heart, given how he reacted to the kneeling football players. As such, I’ll be laughing hard if I hear anybody try to argue otherwise.
I’m just glad that the resolution passed, even if our representative voted against it. At the end of the day, this was still a victory for many vulnerable categories of people.