UNITED NATIONS – At least 73 countries outlaw homosexuality, leaving the world body with an uphill struggle to institute human rights for gays. But there have been significant victories despite the Trump administration’s vote to outlaw the death penalty for gays and others subject to discrimination.
The United States is wavering, as witnessed by its September 29 vote in the Geneva-based Human Rights Council against imposing the death penalty for “specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations.”
Officials have argued that its “no” vote was against abolishing the death penalty. The US delegate could have abstained rather voting against the entire resolution.
The introduction to the resolution did recall other documents aimed at abolishing the death penalty. But upon careful reading of the measure, (A/HRC36/L.6), there is nothing that calls for a mandatory abolishment of the death penalty in the active part of the document. The words “urge” or “calls upon” are not mandatory compared to the word “decides.”
“Decides” was used in reference that the elements in the resolution would be addressed at future sessions. On the death penalty itself, the document asks states that have not abolished it should “consider doing so.”
The vote was 27 in favor 13 against and seven abstentions. Joining the US in the “no” vote were Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Obama past actions
The Obama administration abstained in 2014 on a resolution in the Human Rights Council on the death penalty, but that measure did not contain discriminatory provisions. In 2010, US delegates in New York voted against an amendment to a resolution that would have included gays in a denunciation of arbitrary executions. But the words were deleted as Arab and African nations succeeded by a nine votes.
Still both the State Department and Nikki Haley, the New York-based US ambassador, disputed the accusation that the vote was against gay rights.
“There was NO vote by USUN that supported the death penalty for gay people. We have always fought for justice for the LGBT community,” she said. (Haley has also argued in favor of LGBT rights in the UN Security Council.)
But have we? LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. President Donald Trump, to the astonishment of his generals, this summer decided to outlaw transgender people from the military. Then Attorney General Jeff Sessions said transgender workers were no longer protected from discrimination.
UN Expert appointed
At the United Nations, the Human Rights Council managed in 2016 to appoint an independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity to monitor violence and discrimination and report back to the Council regularly. On the last day of the General Assembly in 2016 some 65 nations voted in favor of defunding the expert. But 81 states opposed the move and the budget for the expert was maintained.
More controversial was a decision by former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in December 2016 to recognize all legally married UN staff members and give them the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
The marriage certificate need not correspond with the home country of the staff member. In other words, two Russians can be married in New York. Moscow objected vigorously and threatened to bring up the measure again when the U.N. General Assembly reviews staff finances later this year.
Ban, however, excluded U.N. semi-independent agencies, which have to make their own decision. But his ruling covers some 40,000 staff members in the main secretariat.
The vote was 80 against the Russian motion, 42 in favor and 37 nations abstaining. The high abstention vote was attributed to nations refraining from opposing the secretary-general.
When Ban ended his term at the end of 2016, Russia prevented the U.N. Security Council from thanking him specifically for promoting gay rights.
US Ambassador Samantha Power said she had to speak plainly about what Russia tried do -- “export to the UN its domestic hostility to LGBT rights.“
Yet, the lobbying and noise continues at the United Nations.
Gay rights groups in 2010, due to the intervention by Rosemary DiCarlo, the-then U.S. deputy ambassador, achieved consultative rights as a non-governmental organization after being rejected for three years by an obscure UN committee. The 3,200 groups can attend UN meetings, lobby delegates and submit papers. Many of the delegates are from Europe, Latin America and countries where LGBT rights are illegal.
They were active during a ceremony last year when the world body issued six commemorative stamps that can be posted from the United Nations.