United Nations condemns new execution method as 'torture'

Kenneth Eugene Smith, convicted of murder in Alabama, USA, is set to face an unprecedented and experimental execution method, sparking a 'torture' outcry from the United Nations.

Publication: 23.01.2024 - 12:32
United Nations condemns new execution method as 'torture'
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In Alabama, Kenneth Eugene Smith, hired by pastor Charles Sennett to murder his wife Elizabeth, has been sentenced to death. Smith, who claimed he was "not ready" for execution, narrowly escaped death three times due to the prison staff's inability to administer the lethal injection. However, the state's attorney general announced a new and experimental method that is expected to cause "loss of consciousness within seconds and death within minutes."

This method involves connecting Smith to a breathing apparatus and causing death through asphyxiation by nitrogen gas.

The United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva has reacted strongly to this method, which is legal in three states but yet to be implemented in the US. UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani classified "asphyxiation by nitrogen gas" as torture and inhumane. Shamdasani expressed concern about Smith's imminent execution with this new and untested method, stating it could constitute torture or other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment under international human rights law. She noted that nitrogen gas has never been used for executions in the United States.

Smith's attorney objected to the decision, arguing that Smith would be used as a "guinea pig." David Morton, Honorary Professor of Biomedical Science and Ethics at the University of Birmingham, UK, and a member of the panel that drafted the commission's guidelines, expressed his concerns. Morton warned that the method, while potentially effective, could cause significant distress before loss of consciousness and death occur, essentially amounting to a method of strangulation. He also noted the uncertainty of its effects on humans, as animal experiments cannot reliably predict human outcomes in this case, likening the final test to using a human subject.

Smith was sentenced to death for crimes committed in 1989 and 1996. He and fellow criminal John Parker were hired by pastor Charles Sennett to kill his wife, Elizabeth, in exchange for her insurance policy, paying them a thousand dollars each. Smith, who admitted to punching, hitting her with a stick, and stabbing her multiple times with a commando knife, was convicted of the fatal crime.

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