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By Sara Bana
From Iran to Myanmar, to Saudi Arabia, and even to the United States, the death penalty is used as a weapon to control minorities, marginalized groups and individuals standing up for basic human rights. President Biden has a historic chance to stand with those people and against a form of state violence that is in opposition to his personal values. He has an opportunity to represent the best ideals of the United States.
The United States is one of a handful of nations opposing a United Nations resolution calling for a “Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty,” which is scheduled for a vote by the UN General Assembly on Thursday. 126 UN member states supported the draft resolution’s passage through the UN’s 3rd Committee on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, the most ever in favor of the moratorium since a version was first introduced in 2007.
This spike in support comes in reaction to Iran’s threats to execute as many as 15,000 protestors, a horrific policy that the United States has opposed.
Why then is the US Ambassador to the United Nations rejecting this key moment to make the president’s opposition tangible? Is it just because that’s how our country has voted on that resolution since 2007, and there has not actually been a conversation about making a shift? I argue that the time for that shift is right now.
Iranian American supports universal moratorium on the death penalty
My own family faced threats of violence that forced us to flee Tehran in 1996, when I was just a child. I am still shocked to find the death penalty being used so freely as a form of punishment in my adopted home state of Oklahoma, and I am part of the growing movement to end the practice here. Of course, a piece of my heart is always with my birth-country of Iran, and my family, friends and fellow Iranians now swept up in courageous acts of defiance against a vicious regime.
The Iranian regime is preparing to supercharge its execution pipeline in order to intimidate activists, attempting to shut down protests by threatening hundreds or even thousands of executions. They have carried out at least two protest-related executions, and we know of dozens more that face imminent unfair trials and execution, often based on confessions elicited under torture.
President Biden was the first presidential candidate to win election while publicly opposing the death penalty, and in many ways he has turned his belief into policies, including a halt to federal executions. However, his commitment to his values is called into question by the United States breaking with every European ally and the entire Western Hemisphere, while joining with states like North Korea and Iran to oppose this resolution.
This is not who the president is, nor who we are as a country. I am honored to call myself an American, but I would be much prouder if the United States took this simple measure to support brave Iranians calling for more freedom, democracy and human rights. Those are our values, we must support them with word and deed.
Everyone is asked to contact President Biden at bit.ly/BidenYES and/or call the Whitehouse switchboard at 202-456-1414.
Sara Bana arrived to the United States as an Iran-Iraq war refugee. She is now a Human Rights Advocate living and working in Oklahoma. She serves on the Advisory Committee of DeathPealtyAction.org