A new report from advocacy group Amnesty International found that executions around the world increased to at least 676 in 2011, up nearly 25 percent from 2010.
Some 20 countries, at least, were known to have carried out executions in 2011, a decline from the 23 countries, at least, that conducted executions in 2010, Amnesty reported.
Amnesty attributed the increase to an increase in judicial executions in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, though the number does not include executions in China, believed to be in the thousands of people each year.
Since 2002, a decreasing number of countries have conducted executions. That total stood at 31 in 2002 and has declined each year despite an increase in the number of global countries. Amnesty said four countries — China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States — are bucking the trend and conducting executions "at an alarming rate."
According to Amnesty, the United States is the only country in the G8 that carried out executions in 2011.
There are more than 18,000 people on death row world-wide, Amnesty reported, not including China, which remains tight-lipped about its executions and criminal justice system.
"China still continues to execute more people than the rest of the world put together," Amnesty said, without providing concrete numbers.
But Amnesty was buoyed by the countries that didn't execute any prisoners, including Japan which for the first time in 19 years carried out no executions. It also cited an overall decline in the use of the death penalty in the United States, Tunisia, Lebanon and Palestine as examples of positive steps.
According to Amnesty, 43 people were executed in the United States while 78 people received new death sentences. Amnesty has been issuing this report for 50 years and when it started only nine countries had abolished the death penalty, compared with only 20 countries conducting executions this year.
"It's a very important success story," Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary-general, told Reuters, adding that the downside was that "a few countries continue to practice it in large numbers."