Recently, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations passed a resolution condemning the death penalty as punishment for consensual same-sex relations. The resolution also condemned executions for apostasy, blasphemy, and adultery.
There are six countries where the death penalty is used for people in same-sex relationships: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, and Somalia. There are five other countries that legally state same-sex relations is a capital crime, but these countries have not carried out any executions.
The final vote in the 47-member Human Rights Council was 27 in favor, 13 against, and 7 countries abstained. But why would a member of the Human Rights Council abstain from voting?
The former director of DPIC (Death Penalty Information Center) once said, “A majority of the countries in the world have abandoned the use of the death penalty. But the world had not yet formed a consensus against its use.”
So for those that wish to abolish the death penalty worldwide, defining the death penalty as a human rights issue was imperative, but the reclassification of the practice was rejected by those that believed the death penalty was an indispensable part of justice.
In 1994 the United Nations General Assembly considered a resolution to restrict the death penalty. Singapore maintained that capital punishment was not a human rights issue. Seventy four countries abstained from voting and the resolution failed. Here, it seemed, the vote itself, whether it was for or against the restrictions, confirmed that the death penalty was a human rights issue, and countries abstained so their vote wouldn’t be considered a part of the growing consensus to abolish the practice.
In 1997 the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights approved a resolution stating that abolishing the death penalty “contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and to the progressive development of human rights.” The next year, on the 50th anniversary of the U.N.’s Declaration on Human Rights, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order that stated it shall be the policy of the United States to promote respect for international human rights.
So where does the United States stand? (According to the former director of DPIC the concept of human rights as it applies within the United States is rarely discussed. The notion of human rights is almost exclusively forced on other nations.)
Now, in 2014 the Obama administration abstained from a resolution from the Human Rights Council on the death penalty, but that resolution didn’t have any provision related to its specific use against gays.
So, did the Trump administration follow suit and abstain from the recent U.N. resolution condemning capital punishment for consensual same-sex relations, a resolution LBGT groups worldwide called a historic first?
The United States voted no.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department explained, “The United States is disappointed to have to vote against this resolution. We had hoped for a balanced and inclusive resolution that would better reflect the positions of states that continue to apply the death penalty…The United States unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, and apostasy. We don’t consider such conduct appropriate for criminalization and certainly not crimes for which the death penalty would be lawfully available as a matter of international law.”
This sounds like a reason for the United States to abstain from the vote, but by voting no, did the Trump administration agree that the death penalty was a human rights issue, but the United States is against abolishing the practice, or did the Trump administration vote no, because they believed, by abstaining, the Obama administration failed to act? If it’s the latter, the Trump administration needs lessons in abstinence, not tolerance.
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier. He blogs at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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