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UN Raises Concerns Over US Nitrogen Gas Executions

The recent declaration from the United Nations human rights office has brought international attention to the United States’ plan to use nitrogen gas for capital punishment. With Alabama preparing for its first such execution, concerns have been raised about potential violations of international human rights. 

Upcoming Execution in Alabama

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Alabama is set to implement a new execution method involving nitrogen gas asphyxiation. This method is planned for the execution of Kenneth Smith, convicted of murder in 1988.

Nitrogen Gas Method

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The execution by nitrogen gas requires binding a mask to the prisoner’s face, connected to a nitrogen cylinder. This method is intended to cause death by depriving the individual of oxygen.

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UN’s Serious Concerns

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The UN’s human rights office has expressed grave concerns about this method. Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani emphasized the potential breach of international human rights standards.

Potential Torture Violation

Shamdasani warned that the execution could violate prohibitions against torture. The method could also infringe on the prisoner’s right to effective remedies.

International Legal Obligations

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The United States is bound by two international human rights treaties. These treaties set out rights that the planned execution method might violate.

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Unconcluded Appeal

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Shamdasani highlighted that Smith’s appeal against his execution has not been concluded. This unresolved legal matter adds to the complexity of the situation.

Ethical Questions Raised

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The protocol for execution in Alabama does not include administering a sedative. This omission has raised ethical concerns, especially in comparison to standards for euthanizing animals.

The Search for Alternatives

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U.S. states are struggling to obtain drugs for lethal injections. This struggle is partly due to European bans on selling such drugs for execution purposes.

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Revival of Old Methods

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As a result of drug shortages, some states are revisiting older execution methods. These include firing squads and gas-based protocols.

Concern Over Gas Executions

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The adoption of gas executions, as seen in Alabama, is worrying. This method is gaining ground as an alternative to lethal injections.

International Dialogue

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The UN rights office has repeatedly discussed this issue with U.S. authorities. Other UN experts have also raised alarms about the method.

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Global Perspective

According to Amnesty International, the U.S. executed 18 people in 2022. The shift towards nitrogen gas executions is sparking global debate on capital punishment practices.

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