The number of executions carried out around the world in 2015 increased more than 50 percent over the previous year, a surge largely driven by three countries: Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International said in its annual report on the use of capital punishment.
At least 1,634 people were put to death in 25 countries last year, the highest number of executions recorded by the London-based human rights group in more than a quarter century, excluding those carried out in China.
Amnesty believes that thousands more people are executed every year in China, but the government treats information about capital punishment as a state secret.
In a statement released before the report was officially published Wednesday, Amnesty’s secretary-general, Salil Shetty, described last year’s rise in executions as “profoundly disturbing.”
“Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have all put people to death at unprecedented levels, often after grossly unfair trials,” Shetty said. “This slaughter must end.”
The report did not attempt to explain all the reasons for the sharp increase. But it noted that in almost every region, governments use executions as a tool to respond to real and perceived threats to state security and public safety, including terrorism-related offenses.
Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia accounted for 89 percent of the publicly disclosed executions recorded by Amnesty, which opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. The United States also figured among the world’s top five executioners.
In many cases, the report said, the death penalty was applied in contravention of international laws and standards. Iran and Pakistan executed people who were younger than 18 at the time of the crimes for which they were convicted.
The rash of executions in Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia was in stark contrast to a long-term trend toward the abolition of the death penalty and de facto moratoriums on capital punishment in a growing number of countries.
More than two-thirds of nations have abandoned the death penalty in law or in practice. When Amnesty first started tracking executions in 1977, just 16 countries had fully abolished the practice, compared with 102 — more than half — today. Four countries — Fiji, Madagascar, the Republic of Congo and Suriname — removed the death penalty from their laws in 2015. Mongolia’s parliament also passed a new criminal code abolishing executions for all crimes effective in September.
Although the U.S. remains the only country in the Americas to carry out executions, the numbers continued to decline in 2015. A total of 28 people were put to death in six states, the lowest number of executions recorded in the U.S. since 1991.