An Amnesty International report released today says 682 executions were verified to have been carried out last year —only two more than 2011 —as five countries carried through with the death penalty for the first time in many years.

"The regression we saw in some countries this year was disappointing, but it does not reverse the worldwide trend against using the death penalty," said Salil Shetty, the organization's secretary general, in a statement.

The country that had the highest increase in the number of executions was Iraq, with almost double the 68 killed in 2011, according to the 62-page report.

Canadians and the death penalty

Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976.

An Angus-Reid poll released in March suggests three out of five Canadians support reinstating the death penalty for murder. According to the online survey of 1,514 adults that has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, more than half of respondents who supported reinstatement said they believed it would deter potential murderers, save taxpayers money, and that it fit the crime.

More than a third of those who supported reinstatement said they thought it would give the victims' families closure. Twenty per cent of respondents said murderers could not be rehabilitated.

However, many opponents to the death penalty expressed concern about wrongful convictions, the survey found.

The countries that resumed the death penalty are:

  • Botswana, which didn't execute anyone in 2011.
  • Gambia, which executed nine people in August after a nearly three-decade hiatus.
  • India, which hadn't executed anyone since 2004, but imposed 78 new death sentences.
  • Japan, which ended a 20-month halt of executions.
  • Pakistan, which had had no executions since 2008.

Overall, 21 countries are known to have carried out 682 executions, according to Amnesty International's report, titled "Death Sentences and Executions 2012". The same number of countries executed 680 people the year before.

However, these figures omit executions in China, Syria and Egypt. China does not release its figures, which are considered a state secret. Amnesty was unable to confirm any executions in Syria and Egypt, but says some did occur there.

China is said in the report to have carried out more than 1,000 executions, although that's not verified.

The countries with verified figures that executed the most people in 2012 are:

  • Iran, a minimum of 314 people.
  • Iraq, a minimum of 129 people.
  • Saudi Arabia, a minimum of 79 people.
  • United States, with 43 confirmed executions.

In 2012, Latvia joined 96 other countries that have already abolished the death penalty. Ten years ago, 80 countries refused to execute prisoners.

"Governments still executing have run out of arguments to justify themselves," said Shetty. "There is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that the death penalty works as a special deterrent against crime."

Amnesty International fights human rights abuses worldwide and opposes the death penalty "without exception," according to its website.