The organization Hands off Cain, based in Rome, said Friday that at least 4,106 people were executed in 2013, up from 3,967 in 2012, due to increases in Iran, which recorded the highest number of executions in 15 years, and Iraq, which had the highest number since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein.
China remains the world's top executioner, with more than 3,000 executions carried out last year, about equal to 2012. Still, the report noted that executions in China have halved since 2007 -- largely due to a legal reform requiring a high court review of death penalty sentences.
Hands off Cain said 12 states were considered to have abolished the death penalty in 2013 or so far in 2014, either through a moratorium or de facto by not carrying out an execution in a decade.
Emma Bonino, one of the group's founders and a former Italian foreign minister, expressed concern about hundreds of death sentences that have been imposed this year against supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, though still pending legal appeals.
"The fact that there are hundreds sentenced to death after completely summary trials does not help," Bonino said by telephone from Rome.
In the United States, the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last April has helped galvanize public opinion against capital punishment, Bonino said.