US Opposes UN Resolution Against Death Penalty for Same-Sex Relations

The US joined Saudi Arabia in opposing a UN resolution condemning the death penalty for individuals engaging in same-sex relations.

The US, along with 12 other countries, voted against a UN resolution condemning the death penalty for same-sex relations.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted to condemn the death penalty for “apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, and consensual same-sex relations,” but the US voted against it.

The resolution, introduced by Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia and Switzerland, was approved with 27-13 votes.

The US joined Bangladesh, Botswana, Burundi, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in opposing the resolution.

Albania, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Georgia, Germany, Ghana,  Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Rwanda South Africa, Togo, Switzerland, the UK and Venezuela supported the resolution.

Kenya, Nigeria, Tunisia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and Cuba abstained.

ILGA, UN, US, capital punishment, same-sex
ILGA map illustrating sexual orientation rights throughout the world


The resolution condemned “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 expressed “serious concern that the application of the death penalty for adultery is disproportionately imposed on women.”

In addition, it noted 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.”

It further condemned the execution of persons with “mental or intellectual disabilities, persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime, and pregnant women”.

The US backed two failed Russian amendments stating that capital punishment was not necessarily “a human rights violation” and that it was not a form of torture, although it could lead to it “in some cases”.

The US also abstained on an amendment put forward by Saudi Arabia that stated it is “the right of all countries to develop their own laws and penalties”.

In total, there were six attempts to amend and water down the resolution by Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The death penalty is currently implemented for same-sex relations in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, some states in Nigeria, and regions of Somalia. ISIS-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq also use capital punishment against persons engaging in same-sex relations.

Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, and the UAE also have capital punishment laws against engaging in same-sex behaviour, but these are rarely enforced. Brunei has also passed such a law, but it has not yet been implemented.

ILGA, UN, US, same-sex, capital punishment
ILGA info graphic illustrating state-sponsored homophobia and anti same-sex laws


Whilst the resolution condemned the death penalty, it did not demand an end to capital punishment, instead calling on countries not to use it in a “discriminatory manner.”

Renato Sabbadini, the Executive directory of ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association, said in a statement:

“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. This is a monumental moment where the international community has publicly highlighted that these horrific laws simply must end.”

ILGA commended the countries of Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia and Switzerland for leading and sponsoring the resolution.

“They stood firm on principle through a difficult negotiation and voting period”, André du Plessis, head of UN Programme and Advocacy at ILGA, said in a statement.

Capital punishment remains legal in 31 out of 50 US states.  Last year, the US was one of the top ten among countries to use the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre.

The US, under the Obama administration, also abstained on a UNHCR vote on the death penalty in 2014, which made no reference to LGBTI people.

In 2014, the US, along with 24 other countries, voted for a resolution against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender adopted by the UNHRC.

In 2011, the UNHRC approved a resolution in support of LGBTI rights introduced by South Africa.

So far, the US has not given any explanation for its decision to vote against the resolution condemning the death penalty for same-sex behaviour.

Update: The US Department of State has released the following statement:

“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 criminalisation.”

Speaking with Conatus News, Peter Tatchell, director of the Peter Tatchell foundation, responded to the statement by the US State Department:

“If the US opposes the death penalty for homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, and apostasy, why did it not propose an amendment making this clear? There can be no excuse for Washington siding with homophobic and dictatorial nations against this UN resolution. It a sign of the way the Trump administration is downgrading the US commitment to human rights, including LGBT rights.”

About Dan Littauer 6 Articles
Journalist who specialises in LGBTI current affairs, travel writing, feature writing and investigative journalism.

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