A United Nations panel’s decision to remove sexual orientation from an anti-execution resolution is “shameful” and may encourage murders of LGBT people, gay rights campaigners say.

The body voted this week on the amendment, which was passed 79-70. The vast majority of countries in support of the change were African or Arabic.

Veteran gay rights activist Peter Tatchell said the move was a “shameful day in United Nations history” and would give a “de facto green light to the on-going murder of LGBT people by homophobic regimes, death squads and vigilantes”.

Gay rights group Stonewall also criticised the move and said the government should “lead from the front foot” to end homophobic persecution.

Chief executive Ben Summerskill said: “The vote by a UN panel to remove sexual orientation from this significant resolution is deeply disturbing. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people face violence, abuse and in some states, execution, because of their sexual orientation.

“This is a worrying and regressive step. We call on the UK government to lead from the front foot to end the persecution of gay people in other countries.’

The resolution, which the UN votes on every two years, has contained a reference to lesbian and gay people since 1999. It condemns extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions and other killings.

It still includes references to a variety of other groups, such as human rights defenders, religious and ethnic minorities and street children.

Introduced by Morocco and Mali, the amendment called for the words “sexual orientation” to be replaced with “discriminatory reasons on any basis”.

Mr Tatchell said homophobic countries would “take comfort from the fact that the UN does not endorse the protection of LGBT people against hate-motivated murder”.

He added: “The UN vote is in direct defiance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees equal treatment, non-discrimination and the right to life. What is the point of the UN if it refuses to uphold its own humanitarian values and declarations?

“Many of the nations that voted for this amendment want to ensure that their anti-gay policies are not scrutinised or condemned by the UN. Even if they don’t directly sanction the killing of LGBT people, they have lined up alongside nations that do.”

Mr Tatchell also criticised South Africa and Cuba, who voted in favour of the amendment.

“Presidents Raul Castro and Jacob Zuma should hang their heads in shame. They’ve betrayed the liberation ideals that they profess to uphold,” he said.

Earlier this week, Cary Alan Johnson, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said the vote was a “dangerous and disturbing development” for gay people.