EU and UN condemn first execution using nitrogen in US

The European Union and United Nations have criticised the first execution in the US using nitrogen, which was carried out on in Alabama on Thursday night local time. 

“I deeply regret the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith in Alabama despite serious concerns this novel and untested method of suffocation by nitrogen gas may amount to torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said. 

The EU diplomatic service called the execution method “particularly cruel” and reiterated its opposition to the death penalty in “all circumstances”. “The death penalty has no deterrent effect on crime and is an ultimate punishment that makes judicial mistakes irreversible,” it said in a statement. “To date, 196 innocent people have escaped death row in the United States.”

Smith was convicted in 1989 of murdering a preacher’s wife, Elizabeth Sennett, in a killing-for-hire. An earlier execution attempt was abandoned in 2022.

Alabama is one of three US states that allows executions using nitrogen. Typically, executions in the US are done with lethal injection. Twenty-three of the 50 US states have abolished the death penalty.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk at an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Geneva, December 2023 © PHOTO FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

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