The U.S. State Department responded Tuesday to questions as to why it opposed a United Nations resolution that condemns the discriminatory use of the death penalty, such as in cases of adultery and same-sex relations. Spokesperson Heather Nauert said the U.S. had “broader concerns” about the resolutions language regarding the death penalty.
“As our representative to the Human Rights Council said last Friday, the United States is disappointed to have voted against that resolution,” Nauert said at a press briefing Tuesday. “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.”
Nauert clarified, “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. Okay? I hope that’s clear.”
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley further insisted on Twitter that when the U.S. voted against a resolution condemning the death penalty for homosexuality, it was not voting for the death penalty for gay people.
Neither of these things are true.
Her second claim, that this vote was the same as the vote that took place under the Obama administration, is also false. First of all, as BuzzFeed notes, the Obama administration abstained from the 2014 death penalty resolution; it didn’t vote “No” as the U.S. did on Friday. More importantly, the language on same-sex relations was entirely new to this year’s resolution.
Susan Rice, the UN ambassador under President Obama, was among those condemning the vote:
Nauert’s explanation is also a misleading summary of the actual text of the resolution. While the resolution does refer to various other times the death penalty has been condemned, the actual resolution’s recommendations only address the discriminatory implementation of the death penalty. It does call upon countries to “consider” ratifying what’s known as the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, but it does not require it.
The rest of the resolution’s calls to action refer to how the death penalty is implemented, not whether it should be. It simply calls upon states that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that it is not applied in a discriminatory way and to take all possible precautions to protect the civil rights of people who are facing that punishment.
The resolution reveals how isolated the U.S. is on the issue of the death penalty compared to the rest of the democratized world. Multiple studies and reports by the UN have found that the death penalty is often applied in various discriminatory ways across the world, including disproportionate use against women, racial minorities, poor and economically vulnerable people, and foreign nationals. This is no less true in the U.S., where people of color have made up 43 percent of total executions since 1976 and make up 55 percent of those currently awaiting execution, according to the ACLU.
As to the Second Protocol the resolution encourages countries to sign, it’s already been signed by almost all of Europe and South America, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and South Africa, among others. Abolishing the death penalty is a requirement for countries seeking to join the European Union.