Written by Jackson Samples (CLAS '20)
On Tuesday, October 3rd, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley cast a “no” vote on a Human Rights Council resolution which condemns the death penalty as a sanction for “same-sex relations” and other acts. Fortunately for the world, the resolution still had sufficient votes to pass; in the end, a small step was taken in the fight to formally recognize the human rights of individuals. The United States, meanwhile, is on the record as being on the wrong side of social progress, and has sent a dangerous message to marginalized groups around the world.
The “no” vote is problematic for several reasons. While the death penalty itself is immoral, its use against people simply because they are gay is beyond that--it then becomes an indefensible, discriminatory practice. Actions like these have no place in the 21st century. The fact that the Trump administration could not even acknowledge this is deeply disturbing, and makes clear that they do not truly value the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals. Moreover, if the administration cannot take a moral stand on the issue of killing people because of an identity they hold, it becomes clear that they view ethics and statecraft as mutually exclusive. Such a philosophy holds dark implications in the realms of both domestic and international policymaking.
Cynics would argue that the “no” vote, in the grand scheme of things, is inconsequential--since the U.N. resolution does not actually change nations’ policies or carry an enforcement mechanism, votes like these are superfluous statements. This logic, however, is flawed. The United States holds more social and political capital than any other nation in the world. As a result, the President can influence financial markets and change nations’ behavior merely by delivering a speech. Similarly, the United States’s vote behind a resolution at the United Nations can make a material difference in people’s lives. One can look at the instance of the Argentine government in the 1970’s returning political prisoners only after human rights pressure was exerted by the United Nations. Nation-states in general are concerned with how the United States plays a role in such pressure; if we take a strong stand against human rights abuses, nations take notice and at the very least move away from openly committing abuses. This by itself goes a long way in ensuring such behaviors become taboo and socially unacceptable. Unfortunately, the “no” vote cast by Ambassador Haley sends the message that the United States does not take the violation of human rights seriously, encouraging governments to continue their inhumane practices. LGBTQ+ individuals and all marginalized groups around the world are left without the meaningful, vocal support they need.
Furthermore, Ambassador Haley’s subsequent clarification of the “no” vote was not sufficient. It is laughable to claim that the Trump administration has “always fought for justice for the LGBT community” when the administration has moved to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military and urged courts to rule that federal law does not ban discrimination against gay employees. It is also erroneous to compare it to the U.N. vote that took place under the Obama administration, in which the United States abstained and the language regarding “same-sex relations” was not included.
The Trump administration has time and time again shown that it believes LGBTQ+ people are not deserving of equal rights, and Ambassador Haley’s discriminatory “no” vote is just one example of this. The issues with the vote, however, do not end there. As discussed before, the vote is indicative of the administration’s dangerous approach to foreign relations. With the United States pulling back support for a global human rights regime, human rights abuses are going to naturally increase in frequency. The silence of the U.S. regarding the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, genocide of LGBTQ+ in Chechnya, and the Syrian refugee crisis, among hundreds of other issues, does nothing but add oxygen to these fires. Ultimately, the best way to improve the situation is to increase domestic pressure on the administration, and elect a President who possesses a more ethical approach to foreign policy in 2020. Only then are we likely to see improved outcomes for marginalized groups around the world.
Jackson Samples can be contacted at email@example.com.
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