On 29 September 2017, the United States was one of 13 members of the United Nations Human Rights Council to vote against a resolution asking countries in which the death penalty is legal to ensure it is not applied “arbitrarily or in a discriminatory manner” or imposed to punish specific forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, and consensual same-sex relations.
“The Question of the Death Penalty” passed by a healthy margin anyway, with 27 nations voting in favor and seven abstaining. The members voting against were Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), there are currently six countries (actually eight, if the parts of Iraq and Syria occupied by ISIS are included) in which the death penalty is implemented for same-sex relations, and an additional five in which capital punishment is technically permitted in those cases but not invoked.
The resolution further expressed concerns that the application of the death penalty in cases of adultery disproportionately punishes women and specifically condemned the use of capital punishment against persons with mental or intellectual disabilities, persons under 18 years of age at the time of the commission of a crime, and pregnant women.
LGBTQ and human rights advocates condemned the U.S. for voting against the resolution. A statement from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) called U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and the Trump administration’s failure to champion the resolution “beyond disgraceful”:
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,” said Ty Cobb, director of HRC Global. “While the U.N. 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.”
Responding to such criticisms, U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said during a 3 October press briefing that the much of the reporting on the United States’ position on the resolution had been misleading, and that despite appearances the U.S. “unequivocally condemns” the application of the death penalty to homosexuality, adultery, and religious offenses:
As our representative to the Human Rights Council said last Friday, the United States is disappointed to have voted against that resolution. 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. 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.
— Department of State (@StateDept) October 3, 2017
The full text of the U.N. resolution, which, in fact, calls upon all states that have not already abolished the death penalty to consider doing so, is here.