Amnesty International (AI) has said the number of executions carried out in the world increased from 682 in 21 countries in 2012 to 778 in 22 countries in 2013.
According to a new report on death penalty and executions released yesterday, AI said the figure of 778 excludes the thousands of executions carried out in China, which accounts for more executions than the rest of the world combined.
Apart from China, almost 80 per cent of all known executions were recorded in only three countries: Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
â€œThe vast majority of countries in Africa have moved away from the death penalty, while a small, isolated group continues to cling to state-sanctioned killing,â€ AI’s Africa Director, Netsanet Belay.
He noted that the shocking rise in executions was down to just a few countries, and was all the more disappointing given the real progress towards abolition seen elsewhere in the region in recent years.
Despite the setbacks, the report said progress towards abolition was recorded in all regions of the world.
The report named Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia as countries behind more than 90 per cent of the 64 reported executions carried out in Africa in 2013.
They also accounted for two-third of all reported death sentences in the region, with dramatic increases recorded in Nigeria and Somalia.
The report stated that executions were resumed in Nigeria on 24 June last year, when four men were executed in Benin City Prison in Edo State, in the first known judicial executions since 2006.
The executions were carried out without informing the relatives in advance, and while, according to the menâ€™s lawyers, appeals were still pending.
It stated that the bodies were not returned to the families for burial, nor was the location of the graves made known.
The report said: “One week earlier, on Fatherâ€™s Day, President Goodluck Jonathan had urged state governors to sign death warrants for death row prisoners.”
In 2011 the federal government had confirmed that there was a moratorium on executions in place in Nigeria; however, in 2012 this was described as “voluntary.”
At least 141 death sentences were imposed, mostly for murder, but also for other crimes such as armed robbery.
In September, several soldiers were convicted of treason and sentenced to death by a General Court Martial for alleged links to Boko Haram.
According to government information, at least 1,233 prisoners were under death sentence as of September 2013.
The Nigerian Prison Services reportedly stated at the end of last year that 20 women were on death row.
The report said in Nigeria, accused people were tried under state laws and execution warrants had to be signed by state governors.
The prisons â€“ and any execution â€“ are administered by the federal government. The death penalty is mandatory for murder, armed robbery and certain cases of treason.
It noted that bills making kidnapping a capital crime became law in Bayelsa State, Edo State and Delta State.
The report found that alarming levels of death penalty use in an isolated group of countries led to more than 50 per cent rise in executions across Africa in 2013 compared to the year before.
At the beginning of 2014, the regional court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ordered the Nigerian government to refrain from further executions, and the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN), confirmed that the government would respect the ruling.
However, the report said there was progress to report in Africa last year, and the long-term trend towards abolishing the death penalty was clear across the region.
More than two-thirds-37 of the African Unionâ€™s 54 member states-have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
In 2013, as in the previous year, only five countries in the region implemented death sentences â€“ roughly one in 10.
During the year, many states across Africa took small but significant steps towards abolition. New constitutions being drafted in Ghana and Sierra Leone offer real opportunities to end capital punishment, while both Benin and Comoros are considering new penal codes that would abolish the death penalty for all crimes.
â€œIt is a great pity that a few countries let the region down. Most African states have abolished the death penalty in law or practice or are on the road to doing so.â€
â€œPositive developments in countries across Africa have inspired the global abolitionist movement in recent years. Governments must ensure these hopes are not in vain â€“ the increase in executions in 2013 should not be repeated over this year,” Belay added.