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UNSRT: Capital punishment increasingly considered torture

last updated Oct 30, 2012

In his report to the General Assembly, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez has put an emphasis on the correlation between capital punishment and torture and stated that an increasing number of states are in the process of redefining the legality of capital punishment. He said that “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.”

Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture; Source: United Nations - Geneva

The traditional view of the legality of capital punishment with respect to the right to life guaranteed under international law is slowly changing into an approach considering the infliction of severe mental and physical pain or suffering in the execution of a person, according to the UNSRT. Méndez has stated that the emerging “death row phenomenon” has changed the context of capital punishment in the light of the prohibition of torture. Under “death row phenomenon” one understands a combination of circumstances producing severe mental trauma and physical suffering among prisoners serving death sentences (e.g. increased anxiety, prolonged solitary confinement, poor prison conditions and lack of educational and recreational activities).

The UNSRT explicitly criticised the United States and Iran while he did not mention China in his report. China executes more people than any other country and has been continuously subjected to criticism for its execution methods by human rights organisations.

OHCHR News: Death penalty increasingly viewed as torture, UN Special Rapporteur finds

Reuters: Executions increasingly viewed as torture: U.N. investigator