In the United States, proponents of the death penalty have the luxury of justifying executions on the basis that the death penalty is the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime: murder. A more global perspective reveals, however, that in some nations, the death penalty is being used not only against convicted murderers, but also against members of the LGBT community. According to the Lesbian and Gay Association, over half a dozen countries put individuals to death for engaging in same-sex actions.
Considering the global persecution of homosexuals, the United Nation’s recent voteto remove sexual orientation from a resolution condemning unjustified executions against certain vulnerable groups, is shocking to say the least.
The resolution in question, asserts the responsibility of member nations to defend the right to life, with a particular focus on members of historically persecuted groups. The vulnerable groups mentioned in the resolution include ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities, and for the past decade, the list has also included sexual orientation. This year however, Morocco and Mali introduced an amendment to delete sexual orientation from the list, claiming the deletion would more accurately reflect the values of African and Islamic nations. The amendment passed by a narrow vote of 79-70, quickly sparking concerns and vocal opposition from humanitarian groups such asHuman Rights Watch. The subsequent fallout from the amendment brought the use of harsh punishments and the death penalty against sexual minorities to the world’s attention.
In October of 2009, Ugandan Member of Parliament, David Bahati introduced theUgandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which in some cases, broadens legal punishment for homosexual activity to include the death penalty. Under this bill, people or organizations that promote LGBT rights are subject to criminal prosecution and punishment. In addition, the bill proposes that all citizens who witness homosexual activity be required to report it within 24 hours, or they could be subject to years of imprisonment. Prior to the passing of the bill, homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, however government leaders expressed that the measures were necessary to ensure the “strengthening the nation’s capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family”.
Since the proposition of the bill in 2009, the anti-gay sentiment within the country has grown substantially. In October of 2010, a newspaper entitled, The Rolling Stone, published what it called their “top 100 gays and lesbians”. The article featured the names, pictures, and home address of 100 suspected homosexuals. Since this time, many Ugandan gays and lesbians have reported a sharp increase in violencetowards them by fellow citizens.
Not surprisingly, Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill has raised a great amount of opposition. Many Western nations have threatened to stop monetary and physical aid to Uganda. Similarly, numerous human rights organizations, such asAmnesty International, have expressed their concerns about violence and threats to freedom of expression. In addition, Elizabeth Matanka, the U.N. special envoy on AIDS, asserts that the legislation will make citizens fearful of being tested for HIV, if doing so could make them suspected of being homosexual.
The backlash discussed above is likely what caused Ugandan official James Nsaba, to say that the bill would be revised to replace use of the death penalty with life imprisonment. However, the original sponsor of the bill, David Bahati, has asserted that he intends to fight for the inclusion of the death penalty in the bill.
While many of us in Western nations would like to believe that the world is moving forward with respect to human rights, the U.N.’s failure to protect the life of all members of vulnerable groups is a sobering reminder of our shortcomings.
While many people believe that executing persons based solely on their sexual orientation is both cruel and barbaric, we must remember that the leaders and citizens of many countries, including Uganda, believe the execution of homosexuals is necessary to protect the integrity and safety of their society.
And is this not, in part, the same argument used by many Western proponents of the death penalty? In this sense, the execution of convicted criminals who are often poor, usually minorities, frequently suffer from mental illness, and are sometimes innocent, may not be as different as it appears at first glance.