Activists against the death penalty lodged appeals with the United Nations and the International Criminal Court last week, urging an inquiry into Alabama’s use of nitrogen gas to execute Kenneth Smith.

The written appeals were authored by Jeff Hood, Smith’s spiritual counselor, along with Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, an organization managed by individuals facing death row sentences. They allege that the nitrogen gas execution, the first of its kind in the U.S., constituted an act of “torture” and represented a violation of international human rights laws.

Smith, aged 58, was declared deceased on Jan. 25 at 8:25 p.m. local time. According to the Associated Press, he displayed signs of distress during the procedure, “shaking and writhing on the gurney,” “tugging at the restraints” for at least two minutes, followed by several minutes of labored breathing. Hood and other witnesses of the execution detailed similar observations in their correspondences.

The written appeals highlighted the need to hold not only state officials accountable for approving this execution method but also the individuals executing the procedure. The letters specifically named four staff members from the correctional department and facility involved in the execution, calling for their prosecution.

“The responsibility starts with the four individuals in that room. Yet, it extends beyond them. Far beyond,” Hood expressed to HuffPost.

“In my view, these four individuals are no different from other historical wrongdoers. They perpetrate injustice, murder, and crimes against humanity,” he added.

In 2018, Governor Kay Ivey (R) of Alabama endorsed a legislation permitting nitrogen executions due to a shortage of lethal injection substances, while a lawsuit by death row inmates challenged the constitutionality of lethal injections in the state.

This legislation made Alabama the third state in the nation to sanction nitrogen gas as an execution method, yet lethal injection remained the predominant means of capital punishment, as reported by the Montgomery Advertiser.

Last week, the U.N. secretary-general issued a call for testimonies and responses on the death penalty to include in a forthcoming report addressing the contentious practice at the upcoming U.N. general assembly. Hood and PHADP submitted letters to the secretary-general and also forwarded separate communications to the International Criminal Court requesting an investigation into the use of the death penalty in Alabama.

Smith had received a life sentence without the possibility of parole in 1996, but a judge overturned the jury’s decision to spare his life — a practice that is now unlawful — and was sentenced to death. In a similar incident, Smith survived a failed lethal injection execution in November.various other inmates awaiting capital punishment in Alabama before him.

According to legal filings, Smith was fastened to a gurney for over four hours. The execution personnel then unsuccessfully tried to administer him with the substances necessary for lethal injection, resulting in intense agony and respiratory distress, as detailed in a grievance from the legal team of Smith.

“They were repetitively piercing me, entering the same orifice like a sewing machine,” Smith disclosed to NPR in December. “I was entirely solitary amidst a multitude, and none of them extended any assistance to me whatsoever — and I pleaded for aid.”

The execution was annulled later that evening and Smith was rendered incapable of walking or standing, and emotionally scarred by the bungled execution, according to the grievance. Subsequently, the state designated him as the pioneer subjected to capital punishment by nitrogen gas. Smith expressed to NPR his profound “fear” regarding the impending event.

The White House affirmed their “concern” over Smith’s nitrogen gas execution, and upheld President Joe Biden’s disapproval of capital punishment and endorsement of Attorney General Merrick Garland’s suspension of the practice.

However, Hood opines that the likelihood of the U.S. administration holding anyone accountable for Smith’s demise is minimal.

“This kind of inquiry is improbable in the United States. Authorities are unlikely to pursue this,” Hood remarked. “Nevertheless, we are of the view that the international community has explicitly voiced that it is unethical to compel individuals to take the lives of unarmed persons, it is unethical to terminate lives using gas, it is unethical to establish institutional mechanisms for eradicating civilians.”

Hood recognized that the communications with the U.N. and International Criminal Court act as a mode of documentation, so that in the future “when executions become obsolete … the global community will initiate efforts to penalize those responsible for perpetrating it.”