The number of people executed around the world last year rose by almost 15 per cent, according to a new Amnesty International report on worldwide death sentences and executions.

However, a small number of countries are responsible for the spike over last year's numbers, reads the Death Sentences and Executions 2013 report released by the human rights group.

"The virtual killing sprees we saw in countries like Iran and Iraq were shameful," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's Secretary General, in a statement.

"But those states who cling to the death penalty are on the wrong side of history and are, in fact, growing more and more isolated."

Twenty-two countries executed 778 people last year. However, not all countries make their data publicly available. While China does not release its numbers, Amnesty International estimates the nation executes thousands of people every year.

In 2013, the five countries that executed the most people were:

  • China.
  • Iran (369 people).
  • Iraq (169 people).
  • Saudi Arabia (79 people).
  • U.S.A. (39 people).

Excluding China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia accounted for 80 per cent of all executions last year in the world.

"The long-term trend is clear – the death penalty is becoming a thing of the past. We urge all governments who still kill in the name of justice to impose a moratorium on the death penalty immediately, with a view to abolishing it," said Shetty.

In total, 98 countries have now abolished the death penalty for all types of crimes. Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976.

Last year, Europe and Central Asia did not carry out any executions. Belarus, the only country in the area that has not abolished the death penalty, did not execute any criminals.

Last year, 1,925 people were sentenced to death in 57 countries. In 2012, 1,722 people were sentenced to death in 58 countries.

Amnesty International is an organization that campaigns against human rights abuses around the world. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty under all circumstances.