UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official profile] on Thursday welcomed the measures [press release] being taken by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to prevent the use of its drugs in state-sponsored execution by lethal injection. Pfizer announced its decision to restrict the sale of seven products that have been part of lethal injection protocols in some states. Resale will be restricted, and government entities will need to certify that any product they purchase from the company will not be used for penal purposes. Pfizer also stated its intention to monitor the distribution of its products consistently. The High Commissioner stated, “[i]t is heartening to see companies playing an active role in furthering the trend towards ending use of the death penalty,” and called on all businesses to “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and … seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services.” Stressing that the UN opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, Zeid also expressed his concern for the potential that states may resort to questionable sources for the drugs required to administer lethal injections and urged them not to engage in such tactics.
Capital punishment [JURIST op-ed] remains a controversial issue in the US and worldwide. Last week the US Supreme Court [official website] upheld a stay [JURIST report] of execution issued by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] for Alabama inmate Vernon Madison. A few days before that a Miami judge ruled [JURIST report] that Florida’s revamped death penalty law is unconstitutional because it does not require a unanimous agreement among jurors to approve executions. Last month Virginia’s General Assembly voted [JURIST report] to keep secret the identities of suppliers of lethal injection drugs. In February the Eleventh Circuit rejected [JURIST report] a Georgia death row inmate’s legal challenge to the death penalty. In January Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood stated that he plans to ask lawmakers to approve the firing squad, electrocution or nitrogen gas as alternate methods of execution if lethal injection drugs become unavailable [JURIST report]. The Supreme Court in January ruled [JURIST report] in Kansas v. Carr [opinion, PDF] that a jury in a death penalty case does not need to be advised that mitigating factors, which can lessen the severity of a criminal act, do not need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt like aggravating factors.