State Dep’t: Of Course We Oppose Death Penalty for Same-Sex Activity

By Patrick Goodenough | October 4, 2017 | 4:18am EDT
National flags at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, home of the U.N. Human Rights Council. (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

( – The U.S. voted against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution on the death penalty, not because it condemned capital punishment for homosexuality, but because the text included calls for the abolition of the death penalty altogether, the State Department said Tuesday.

The administration has come under fire for Friday’s vote against the resolution, a stance that put the U.S. in the same column at the Geneva-based HRC as countries like China, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Most of the criticism has focused on the resolution’s condemnation of the death penalty for “consensual same-sex relations,” with advocacy groups leading the condemnation of Washington’s no vote.

“This administration’s blatant disregard for human rights and LGBTQ lives around the world is beyond disgraceful,” said Ty Cobb, director of the global division of the Human Rights Campaign, using an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.

But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert indicated on Tuesday that there was no question the administration would support the imposition of the death penalty for homosexuality – as well as for apostasy, blasphemy and adultery, which are also mentioned in the resolution.

The problem with the resolution put to the vote on Friday, she told a briefing, was that “it called for the abolition of the death penalty altogether.”

(Specifically, it “calls upon states that have not yet acceded to or ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty to consider doing so.”)

“The United States clearly has the death penalty both at the state and the federal level. That is why we voted against this,” Nauert said.

“If they wanted to apply the death penalty for homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery etc. etc. etc., we would absolutely oppose the use of the death penalty in those cases,” she added.

“As Americans, we promote democracy and human rights and those are parts of our values that we share in our hearts as Americans, and that’s something that we do each and every day from the State Department in promoting those values.”

Nauert said a lot of the reporting on the vote had been “misleading.”

“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,” she said.

Three prisoners are hanged in public in Shiraz, southern Iran, on August 3, 2014 after being convicted of “moharebeh” (enmity against Allah), according to a rights advocacy group. (Photo: Iran Human Rights )

“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.”

“Fact: There was NO vote by USUN that supported the death penalty for gay people,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley tweeted Tuesday. “We have always fought for justice for the LGBT community.”

The resolution on Friday was adopted by the 47-member HRC with 27 votes in favor, 13 against and seven abstentions. It included a clause condemning “the imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations.”

After Friday’s vote, U.S. representative Jason Mack told the HRC that the U.S. “is disappointed that it must vote against this resolution. As in previous years, we had hoped for a balanced and inclusive resolution that would better reflect the position of states that continue to apply the death penalty lawfully.”

In October 2015 the Obama administration opposed a resolution in the HRC that bore strong similarities to the one that passed on Friday, although in that case it did not include the references to the death penalty for homosexuality, apostasy, blasphemy and adultery.

That resolution passed by virtually the same margin as last week’s – 26 votes to 13, with eight abstentions. Among those joining the U.S. in voting no were China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar and the UAE.

Islamic countries and the death penalty

Countries where the death penalty for homosexuality is applied or codified in law are all Islamic.

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), the death penalty for same-sex sexual acts is applied in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, as well as in the northern states of Nigeria, parts of Somalia, and areas of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).

In five other countries – Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar and the UAE – the death penalty for same-sex sexual acts is codified in law, but not implemented for same-sex behavior specifically, ILGA says. A sixth country, Brunei, has not yet implemented advanced phases of a new shari’a-based legal code that includes punishments such as stoning to death.

Countries where the death penalty is applied for apostasy – the act of leaving one’s faith for another – and blasphemy are also universally Islamic.

Apostasy is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan’s blasphemy laws provide for the death penalty for “defiling Prophet Muhammad.”

Iran, which carries out more executions each year than any country apart from China, applies the death penalty for offenses including apostasy, insulting Mohammed and other “grand prophets,” moharebeh (enmity against Allah), “corruption on earth” and adultery.

Sudan’s penal code declares any Muslim who declares publicly the adoption of a religion other than Islam an apostate, subject to the death penalty.

Mauritania’s criminal code gives a Muslim found guilty of apostasy three days to reflect, and “if he does not repent within this time limit, he is to be condemned to death as an apostate and his property will be confiscated by the Treasury.”

Converts to Christianity have also been sentenced to death in Afghanistan, although international intervention has at times saved lives.

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