The Trump administration is under fire from LGBT activists and human rights supporters over a vote on Tuesday against a resolution condemning the use of the death penalty.
But it isn't just this particular resolution or the current administration — the US has never supported any measure at the UN that condemns the death penalty.
Tuesday's vote in the UN Human Rights Council was on a measure that would encourage member states to apply a moratorium to the use of the death penalty, noting in its preamble the way that it can be unfairly applied to women, to people with disabilities, along racial divides, and against people engaged in "consensual same-sex relations." That resolution passed by a vote of 27 in favor, 13 against, and 7 abstentions.
Coverage of the resolution has almost exclusively focused on it being the first on the death penalty to pass while mentioning LGBT relationships, which advocacy groups like the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association have heralded as "historic."
The US was one of the 13 votes against, alongside Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, a point that led LGBT groups in particular to immediately respond, calling out US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley in particular for her stance.
“Ambassador Haley has failed the LGBTQ community by not standing up against the barbaric use of the death penalty to punish individuals in same-sex relationships,” said Ty Cobb, director of Human Rights Campaign Global, in a statement emailed out soon after the vote. “While the UN Human Rights Council took this crucially important step, the Trump/Pence administration failed to show leadership on the world stage by not championing this critical measure. This administration's blatant disregard for human rights and LGBTQ lives around the world is beyond disgraceful.”
But the resolution likely would not have seen a different vote from the UN under previous administrations — or at least wouldn't have been outright supported. In 2014 the Obama administration abstained on a resolution at the Human Rights Council, though it lacked the portion highlighting LGBT rights.
"International law does not prohibit capital punishment when imposed and carried out in a manner that is consistent with a state’s international obligations," Ambassador Keith Harper said at the time. We therefore urge all governments that employ the death penalty to do so in conformity with their international human rights obligations."
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert called the media coverage of the vote "misleading" and said the US was disappointed to have to vote against it. "The United States voted against this resolution because of broader concerns with the resolution’s approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances and calling for its abolition," she said.
"The United States unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery and apostasy," Nauert said. "We do not 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.”
The US remains one of the few industrialized countries to still have capital punishment, which is legal in 31 out of 50 US states. In 2016, the US remained in the top 10 among countries worldwide in terms of number of prisoners confirmed to have been executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The Obama administration abstained on a vote on the death penalty in 2014. A previous version of this article said that it voted "no."
Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Hayes Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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