April 20 (UPI) -- Global executions continued to decline in 2020 although some nations such as Egypt, China and the United States ramped up capital punishment, according to a report released Tuesday by Amnesty International.
The British human rights group's Death and Executions 2020 report found 483 executions were recorded in 18 countries in 2020, a decrease of 26% from 657 in 2019 marking the lowest number of executions recorded in a decade.
Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International, said in a statement that the use of the death penalty amid the COVID-19 pandemic is a "particularly egregious assault on human rights."
"The death penalty is an abhorrent punishment and pursuing executions in the middle of a pandemic further highlights its inherent cruelty. Fighting against an execution is hard at the best of times, but the pandemic meant that many people on death row were unable to access in-person legal representation and many of those wanting to provide support had to expose themselves to considerable -- yet absolutely avoidable -- health risks," said Callamard.
China's execution data is classified as a state secret but Amnesty International listed the nation as the world's leading executioner, citing the belief that it has carried out thousands of executions.
Additionally, China sentenced at least one person to death as part of a crackdown on criminal acts affecting efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Along with China, Iran with 246 executions, Egypt with 107, Iraq at 45 and Saudi Arabia at 27 were among the top five nations in total executions in 2020. The four nations, excluding China, accounted for 88% of all known executions in 2020.
Egypt tripled its executions from 32 in 2019 to 107 in 2020, including a surge of 57 executions in October and November. At least 23 people were executed after being sentenced to death in cases related to political violence in what Amnesty International described as "grossly unfair trials marred by forced 'confessions.'"
In July 2020, the United States carried out its first federal execution in 17 years as Daniel Lewis Lee was put to death by lethal injection.
Ultimately, 10 people were put to death in five and a half months after former President Donald Trump resumed federal executions.
Executions in Saudi Arabia dropped by 85% and Iraq more than halved its executions, while Bahrain, Belarus, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore and Sudan recorded no executions in 2020 after carrying out executions in 2019.
Chad and the U.S. State of Colorado abolished the death penalty, while Kazakhstan committed to abolition and Barbados implemented reforms to repeal its mandatory death penalty.
"We urge leaders in all countries that have not yet repealed this punishment to make 2021 the year that they end state-sanctioned killings for good," said Callamard. "We will continue to campaign until the death penalty is abolished everywhere, once and for all."