[JURIST] UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] spokesperson Rupert Colville issued a statement [UN News Centre report] on Friday urging the US to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty following a botched execution [JURIST report] performed in Oklahoma last week. The OHCHR asserted that the execution of Clayton Lockett, who died of a heart attack following a failed attempt to execute him using a new mixture of lethal injection drugs, could constitute cruel and inhumane treatment by international law standards. Colville also stated that Lockett’s execution could run afoul of US law, possibly constituting a violation of the Eight Amendment to the US Constitution [text, Cornell LII], which prohibits the government’s use of “cruel and unusual punishments.” He said that this is just one example of why the US should “impose an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty and work for abolition of this cruel and inhumane practice,” also citing to an Ohio execution [JURIST report] that was prolonged because of complications in January. US President Barack Obama [official website] called for an investigation [JURIST report] into the application of the death penalty throughout the US on Saturday, calling Lockett’s execution “deeply troubling.” A second execution in Oklahoma that had been scheduled to take place the same day as Lockett’s was stayed by Governor Mary Fallin [official website], who also issued an order [press release] on Wednesday for independent review of the state’s execution procedures.
Use of the death penalty has been a controversial issue throughout the US and internationally. Last week, JURIST Guest Columnist Adam R. Banner wrote a commentary piece discussing the ongoing appellate court battle [JURIST op-ed] over the death penalty secrecy statute in Oklahoma. Earlier that month, a federal district court in Missouri ruled that a lawsuit challenging that state’s bill that would keep secret the identities [JURIST report] of individuals administering the death penalty could continue, despite the state’s objections. In March the Chinese legislature announced that it would be introducing measures to limit the number of crimes [JURIST report] for which the death penalty could be imposed following investigations into the topic by various government agencies and a report by Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] asserting that the country overuses the death penalty [JURIST report]. Earlier that month the US Supreme Court [official website] heard arguments [JURIST report] in a case disputing the legal standard used to determine whether someone is mentally retarded for purposes of whether the death penalty can be used against them. In February the UN released a report expressing alarm [JURIST report] at the high number of executions performed in Iran since the beginning of this year and urging the country to institute a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.