Executions worldwide surged in 2011, rights group says

Executions around the world surged last year, even as the number of countries using capital punishment dropped, according to Amnesty International's latest report.

Drop in number of countries using capital punishment

Executions around the world surged last year, even as the number of countries using capital punishment dropped, according to Amnesty International's latest report.

At least 676 people were executed in 2011, compared with 527 the year before, with Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen driving up the numbers, the group said in its annual report on the death penalty.

Oregon has adopted a moratorium on executions, which used to be carried out in this execution room at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

The figures do not include the total number of executions that Amnesty International believes were carried out in Iran or any of the executions carried out in China, since accurate information is suppressed in both countries. Thousands are believed to have been executed in China, more than the rest of the world put together, the organization says.

Still, just 20 of 198 countries worldwide carried out executions last year. The year before, at least 23 countries allowed death sentences.

"We believe there's a growing trend towards the abolishment of the death penalty," Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International's representative to the United Nations, told CBC News.

Middle East executions up almost 50 per cent

But in the Middle East, executions rose almost 50 per cent in 2011, compared with the previous year, it said.

This was because of Iraq (at least 68 executions), Iran (at least 360), Saudi Arabia (at least 82) and Yemen (at least 41). These executions accounted for about 99 per cent of all recorded executions in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Belarus, where two people were executed, was the only European country and the only former Soviet bloc state still using capital punishment.

The U.S. executed 41 prisoners last year. It is the only country in the Americas and only one of two countries in the G8 (the other being Japan) to sentence people to death. Still, U.S. executions and death sentences have dropped over the last decade, with Illinois becoming the 16th state to abolish the death penalty and Oregon adopting a moratorium.

Methods of execution around the world in 2011 included beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.

2 countries did not warn prisoners, families of executions

Offences leading to execution include adultery and sodomy in Iran, blasphemy in Pakistan, sorcery in Saudi Arabia and drug offences in more than 10 countries.

Some 18,750 people were on death row globally last year, up from roughly 17,833 under sentence of death worldwide at the end of 2010.

In the majority of countries where people were sentenced to death or executed, the trials did not meet international fair trial standards, Amnesty said.

Some cases involved confessions extracted by torture or under duress in countries including China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Saudi Arabia, the organization added.

In Iran, at least three people were executed for crimes committed while under 18 years of age, which is against international law.

And in Belarus and Vietnam, the prisoners and their families were not given notice of the executions.