Mental anguish ‘adds weight’ to argument for ending capital punishment – UN rights chief

The United Nations human rights chief today reiterated his call to abolish the death penalty as it raises serious issues in relation to the dignity and rights of all human beings, including the right to life and the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

“International and national bodies have determined that several methods of execution are likely to violate the prohibition of torture, because of the pain and suffering they are likely to inflict on the convicted person,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, at the opening of the biennial high-level panel discussion on the death penalty, which was organized as part of the Human Rights Council’s current session.

“Studies of the severe pain and suffering caused by other methods has continued to extend this list, to the point where it has become increasingly difficult for a State to impose the death penalty without violating international human rights law,” he stated.

He added that the long and highly stressful period that most individuals endure while waiting on ‘death row’ for years, or even decades, and frequently in isolation, for an uncertain outcome, has also been referenced as constituting torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

This “death row phenomenon” has been recognized by the UN Human Rights Committee and other bodies at the international, regional and domestic levels, as well as by the California Supreme Court.

When the authorities fail to give adequate information about the timing of executions, they keep not only the convicted person but also his children and other family members in permanent anticipation of imminent death, he explained.