The number of countries executing convicts rose to 23 in 2010, four more than the previous year, Amnesty International said in a report published Monday.
The year 2009 saw the lowest number of countries impose the death penalty since the 50-year-old rights organization began keeping statistics.
Despite the rise in 2010, the London-based group said momentum is still with those who are seeking to outlaw the practice, which it argues is cruel and degrading. An increasing number of countries have stripped capital punishment from their books, and fewer executions are being reported across the globe, the report said.
"Countries that use the death penalty are increasingly isolated following a decade of progress toward abolition," Amnesty said in a statement. "A world free of the death penalty is not only possible, it is inevitable. The question is how long will it take."
Gabon 96th country to abolish capital punishment
The West African nation of Gabon became the 96th nation to officially eschew the use of capital punishment in February 2010, and the number of such abolitionist countries have doubled in the past two decades, the group said.
In many countries that still carry out executions, the use of the death penalty has dropped. The United States executed 46 people in 2010, a fall from 2009, when 52 people were put to death. Amnesty noted that the 110 death sentences handed down in the United States in 2010 represent only about a third of the number handed down in the mid-1990s.
Globally, Amnesty reported that at least 527 executions were carried out in 2010, although that figure only represents a fraction of the death sentences thought to have been imposed worldwide.
China biggest executioner
China retained the title of the world's biggest executioner, killing what Amnesty estimated were thousands of convicts. The group said it could not put a specific figure on the number of people sentenced to death there because the issue of executions in China is shrouded in secrecy.
Other top executioners identified by Amnesty included Iran, which executed at least 252 people in 2010, North Korea, with at least 60 executions, and Yemen, with at least 53 executions.
The rights group warned that those numbers could be far higher.
For example, it said it had credible reports of more than 300 additional executions in Iran. Information from North Korea and other repressive communist countries remains incomplete, it said.