On September 29, the United Nations Human Rights Council put up a fairly noncontroversial resolution to condemn countries that still carry out the death penalty for homosexuality and “same-sex relations.”
“This is a monumental moment where the international community has publicly highlighted that these horrific laws simply must end,” said Renato Sabbadini, director of The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). “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.”
The resolution was put forward by eight nations including Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia and Switzerland, who all make an effort to prioritize LGBT+ rights globally.
The resolution 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.”
The resolution also states “serious concern that the application of the death penalty for adultery is disproportionately imposed on women” and that “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.”
Although the vote to condemn the use of the death penalty for homosexuality passed by a 27-13 margin, the US was one of the 13 countries that opposed the resolution. All of the countries in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Latin America supported the resolution except for Cuba (which has a horrific record on LGBT+ rights) and the United States.
There are a few explanations for why the US voted no on this particular resolution.
One is that in addition to condemning the death penalty for homosexuality, the resolution also included a clause that condemns the execution of people diagnosed with a mental disorder, which the US regularly carries out.
A second explanation is that the US did not want to vote for any bill that opposes the death penalty in any way; however, this is not a likely explanation given that the resolution did not call for an outright ban on the death penalty—just a humane application in those nations where it still existed.
A more likely explanation is that Saudi Arabia, a strong ally of the US, strongly opposed the resolution. The US has a longstanding alliance with Saudi Arabia due to strategic alignment between Saudi Arabia’s interests in the region and those of the US, mostly centring around controlling Iran’s regional reach. Because of this mutably-beneficial alliance, the US seems to be willing to overlook the fact that Saudi Arabia has carried out a series of heinous war crimes against civilians using weaponry provided by the US. Saudi Arabia has a long and bloody history of punishing same-sex relations by death as well as other domestic civil rights abuses, most recently when two transgender people were brutally tortured to death by Saudi police.
Regardless of the true reason behind the vote, this is a disturbing step down a very dangerous path of complacency and indifference regarding minority group rights by a representative of the Trump administration.
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