In a turn of events that appalled activists, allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community, the United States voted against a United Nations (UN) motion at the Human Rights Council in Geneva that urged states that had not already abolished the death penalty to ensure that it was not imposed in a way that violates international human rights law. Key phrasing in the motion included “[urging] States that have not yet abolished the death penalty” to avoid using it as punishment for “apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relationships”.
The motion, titled “The Question of the Death Penalty”, was presented on Sept. 29 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Twenty-seven countries voted in favor, seven abstained and 13 voted against it, including Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the United States. The motion passed, despite opposition.
Language in the motion focused on the fact that the death penalty is imposed disproportionately against “poor or economically vulnerable individuals, foreign nationals, individuals exercising the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression […] persons belonging to racial and ethnic minorities… [and] individuals with mental or intellectual disabilities”. It is also used in a discriminatory fashion “based on gender or sexual orientation”. Additionally, the motion sought to protect pregnant women and individuals who committed crimes while under age of 18.
Despite the outrage, the U.S.’s choice to vote against the motion isn’t a new one. According to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (USUN) Nikki Haley, and confirmed by Forbes and other news sites, the United States has never actually voted to restrict the death penalty, although ambassadors have sometimes abstained from voting. The reasoning behind this is that avoiding condemnation of the death penalty abroad allows the U.S. to continue to use capital punishment at home in 31 states, including Florida.
Following outrage over the vote, Ambassador Haley tweeted “there was NO vote by the USUN that supported the death penalty for gay people”. This claim was backed up by Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert in a statement released on on Oct. 3.
“The headlines and much of the reporting that has come out of that has been misleading,” Nauert said. “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 can apply the death penalty lawfully, as the United States does. The United States unequivocally condemns the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, and apostasy.”
Information for this article was gathered from forbes.com, Ambassador Haley’s Twitter @nikkihaley, the Department of State’s Twitter @StateDep and the United Nations motion found at undocs.org.