Amnesty International has reported signs of progress in the global trend toward ending the death penalty. But the report did not include figures from China, which keeps the numbers of its executions secret.
"The 2012 figures on the use of the death penalty confirm that the overall trend globally is towards abolition: Only one in 10 countries worldwide carried out death sentences," the London-based non-profit said in a statement about its annual review released Wednesday.
In 2012, at least 682 executions were confirmed worldwide, two more than in 2011. At least 1,722 newly imposed death sentences in 58 countries could be confirmed, down from 1,923 in 63 countries the year before.
Amnesty found that a total of 21 countries carried out executions in 2012, the same as in 2011, but a sharp drop from 28 countries in 2003.
However, the 2012 figures do not include the number of executions in China, which keeps the data strictly secret.
The rights group reported an "alarming escalation" in executions in Iraq with at least 129 people killed last year, almost double the 2011 figure of 68.
Iran had 314 officially confirmed executions, however the organization said the actual number was almost certainly higher.
India, Pakistan and Japan resumed executions after abandoning the practice for some time, the group said.
"The regression we saw in some countries this year was disappointing, but it does not reverse the worldwide trend against using the death penalty. In many parts of the world, executions are becoming a thing of the past," said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International.
Overall, the use of the death penalty continues to be restricted to an isolated group of countries, and the report cited progress towards its abolition in every region of the world.
The US, which remains the only country in the Americas to carry out executions, put 43 people to death in 2012, the same figure as in the previous year. However, nine states carried out the executions compared to 13 in the previous year.
Also, a total of 77 new death sentences were imposed, the second lowest since capital punishment laws were revised in 1976, the report said.
Worldwide, methods of executions in 2012 included hanging, beheading, firing squad and lethal injection.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty, without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime.
hc/jm (AFP, AP)