Amnesty International's figures, released at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in Geneva, showed that the number of people executed last year jumped by over 100 per cent: up from the 1,457 executions recorded in 2000. This was the highest annual figure since 1996, and the second highest for twenty years.

The human rights organisation attributed this 'dramatic increase' in large part to intensified death penalty use in China after the launch of a national 'strike hard' anti-crime campaign. In April-July 2001 alone China executed at least 1,781 people - more than the total number of people executed in the rest of the world in the previous three years, and by year-end had executed at least 2,468 people. Condemned prisoners were often shacked and humiliated in public parades.

However, despite the worrying leap in executions in 2001, Amnesty International noted there had also been significant progress towards abolition. By the end of the year 111 countries had cumulatively abolished the death penalty in law or practice, three more than at the end of the previous year. Consequently, a small number of countries have accounted for a very large proportion of recent judicial killings.

'The figures for China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the USA accounted for 90 per cent of all known executions in 2001,' Amnesty International said.

Amnesty International stressed that the figures released today only included cases known to the organisation. 'It is impossible to give a complete total because many countries deliberately keep the true numbers of those executed secret, belying the supposed deterrent value of the death penalty,' the human rights organisation said.

Select findings for 2001: · Over 5,265 people were sentenced to death in 68 countries. · At least 2,468 people were executed in China (up from 1,000+ executions in 2000). · 139 executions were reported in Iran (up from 75 for 2000). · 79 executions were reported in Saudi Arabia (down from 123 for 2000). · 66 people were executed in the USA (down from 85 in 2000). · A child offender was executed in Iran, Pakistan and the USA. · Chile abolished the death penalty for peacetime offences. · Turkey reduced the scope of the death penalty. · Pakistan commuted death sentences of approximately 100 child offenders. · Bosnia and Yugoslavia ratified a treaty protocol providing for total abolition of the death penalty (ICCPR, OP2) bringing to 46 the countries to have done so.

Amnesty International urged the UNCHR at Geneva to pass a strong resolution reiterating its call for an immediate worldwide moratorium on executions. 'The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and a violation of the right to life,' Amnesty International said. 'Protecting the right to life is an international responsibility.'

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