Fewer countries worldwide used capital punishment in 2011, however those that did carry out executions did so at an "alarming rate," according to a new report by Amnesty International.
Amnesty International's annual review showing the use of the death penalty worldwide found a 28 percent increase -- from 527 to 676 -- in known executions between 2010 and 2011.
In addition to the increased total of 676 executions last year, it is likely that many executions went unreported in China, Syria and Iran. Amnesty has not published execution estimates for China since 2009, stating that the figures in the public records are grossly inaccurate.
Iran is a similar case; the Amnesty report says that it has "credible reports of a large number of unconfirmed or even secret executions in Iran, which would almost double the number of officially acknowledged executions." The report states that the death penalty was used for all kinds of crimes, from adultery to "crimes against the state." Amnesty also expressed concern for an increase in the use of the death penalty by military courts and tribunals in Bahrain, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority (West Bank and Gaza), Somalia and the United States.
According to the report, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates were the only two countries that resumed executions. After two years of no reported executions, Afghanistan reported two in 2011.
However, there has also been a decrease in the number of countries carrying out executions compared to a decade ago, according to Amnesty. "Only 10 percent of countries in the world, 20 out of 198, carried out executions last year," the report notes. There were a few other notable developments; Sierra Leone and Nigeria both placed moratoriums on executions, and there was progress toward abolition of executions in every global region, Amnesty notes. For the first time in 19 years, no executions were reported in Japan.
Below, see the countries with the worst execution records. WARNING: Contains graphic content.
Read the full Associated Press report below:
NEW YORK -- The United States was the only Western democracy that executed prisoners last year, even as an increasing number of U.S. states are moving to abolish the death penalty, Amnesty International announced Monday.
America's 43 executions in 2011 ranked it fifth in the world in capital punishment, the rights group said in its annual review of worldwide death penalty trends. U.S. executions were down from 46 a year earlier.
"If you look at the company we're in globally, it's not the company we want to be in: China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq," Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, told The Associated Press.
The United States seems deeply divided on the issue.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was cheered at a Republican presidential candidates' debate last September when he defended his signature on 234 execution warrants over more than 10 years as being the "ultimate justice."
Just weeks later, young people rallied in person and online to protest the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia for the 1991 murder of a police officer. In the intervening years, key witnesses for the prosecution had recanted or changed their stories.
"I think the debate on the issue may be nearing a tipping point in this country," Nossel said. "I think we're seeing momentum at the state level, in the direction of waning support for the death penalty."
Illinois banned the death penalty last year, and Oregon adopted a moratorium on executions.
Maryland and Connecticut are close to banning executions, Amnesty said. And more than 800,000 Californians signed petitions to put a referendum on the state ballot in November that would abolish the death penalty.
However, 34 U.S. states have the death penalty.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks U.S. trends, told the AP that last year 78 prisoners received death sentences, down from an average of more than 300 annually a few years ago. "Executions peaked in 1999 at 98," he added. "By all measures, the death penalty is on the defensive."
Dieter attributed much of the decline to the introduction of DNA testing, which has exposed some mistaken convictions. With stronger defense tactics and appeals processes getting longer, U.S. states also found it more and more expensive to pursue death penalty cases, he said.
The United States was the only member of the G-8 group of developed nations to use the death penalty last year. Japan, which also retains capital punishment, recorded no executions for the first time in 19 years, Amnesty reported.
"Our government has made a very strong point of trying to reassert its position as a standard-bearer on human rights globally," Nossel said. "When other countries look at the United States, the use of the death penalty really stands out a lot in the mind of Europeans and others around the world. We're in such incongruous company."
Mexico strongly protested the July execution in the U.S. of one of its citizens, Humberto Leal, for rape and murder on the grounds that he had not been advised of his rights to receive legal advice and assistance from his consulate. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations is supposed to guarantee the right of any citizen to consular help.
Leal was one of 51 Mexican men who have been sentenced to death in the United States after being denied consular assistance, Amnesty said. The International Court of Justice had ordered a full review of all these cases after Texas executed another Mexican man in 2008.
The U.S. federal stance on capital punishment was complicated by the Defense Department's announcement that it would seek the death penalty for six foreign nationals detained at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for trial by military commission. Amnesty contends that military commissions are discriminatory because they do not give foreign citizens the same right to appeal as U.S. courts.