By Michael Lavers  |  Washington Blade
Courtesy LGBT Media Association

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.