Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's team on Tuesday defended the decision to vote against a United Nations resolution calling for the "abolition of the death penalty," and said the language was an overly broad measure that is at odds with U.S. practice.
"The United States clearly has the death penalty, both at the state and the federal level; that is why we voted against this," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.
The broad resolution criticized the use of the death penalty in several cases, including its use to punish homosexual behavior. Nauert made it clear that the U.S. also opposes the death penalty in these cases, but said it had to oppose the measure in its entirety at the U.N.
"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."
Still, the U.S. vote against the resolution put it in the uncomfortable position of siding with states that favor such death penalty laws, which the United States condemns as human rights abuses.
"We would absolutely oppose the use of the death penalty in those cases," Nauert said. "As Americans, we promote democracy and human rights and those are a part of our values that we share in our hearts as Americans."
Nauert criticized "misleading" media coverage that implied the U.S. side voted specifically against such theocratic death penalty laws. She also emphasized that a narrower ban would have won U.S. support.
"We voted against that resolution because of broader concerns about the resolution's approach to condemning the death penalty in all circumstances; and, it called for the abolition of the death penalty altogether," Nauert said. "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."