Executions increasingly viewed as torture

Capital punishment viewed as a form of torture by an increasing amount of countries - UN investigator.

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UNITED NATIONS - Countries around the world are increasingly viewing capital punishment as a form of torture because it inflicts severe mental and physical pain on those sentenced to death, a UN torture investigator said on Tuesday.

Traditionally, countries have considered the legality of capital punishment with respect to the right to life guaranteed under international law, UN special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez told the UN General Assembly's human rights committee.

"My analysis of regional and national jurisprudence identifies a momentum towards redefining the legality of capital punishment," Mendez said.

"States need to re-examine their procedures under international law because the ability of states to impose and carry out the death penalty is diminishing as these practices are increasingly viewed to constitute torture," he said.

He said that there was no such thing as a pain-free form of execution, which makes it difficult to reject the idea that it is a form of torture.

"Methods of execution cannot be discounted as being completely painless," he told reporters after addressing the General Assembly's Third Committee.

In his report to the 193-nation General Assembly, Mendez said that several UN expert panels have urged the United States to review its execution methods, including lethal injection, to prevent extreme pain and suffering.

"Following a number of executions in the United States, it has recently become apparent that the (lethal injection) regimen, as currently administered, does not work as efficiently as intended," Mendez's report said.

"Some prisoners take many minutes to die and others become very distressed," he said. "New studies conclude that even if lethal injection is administered without technical error, those executed may experience suffocation, and therefore the conventional view of lethal injection as a peaceful and painless death is questionable."

Capital punishment is a controversial and divisive issue in the United States. Most US states, as well as the federal government and US military, allow executions, though some states have raised concerns similar to Mendez's.

Last month a Montana judge struck down that state's lethal injection procedure as a violation of the Montana constitution because it lacked necessary safeguards against cruel and unusual punishment, effectively suspending executions.