GENEVA -- The number of known executions around the world doubled last year, with China accounting for 80 percent of that total during its crackdown on crime, Amnesty International said Tuesday.
In its annual report on the death penalty, the human rights group said at least 3,048 people were executed in 31 countries last year.
That includes 2,468 executions in China alone. Between April and July 2001, China executed at least 1,781 people during its national "strike hard" campaign against crime.
"Many of those condemned to death could have been tortured to extract confessions. Condemned prisoners were often shackled and humiliated by being paraded in public," said Amnesty International, which opposes the death penalty.
90 percent in four countries
Four countries -- China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States -- were responsible for 90 percent of the death sentences carried out in 2001, Amnesty International said.
The group released its report in Geneva, where it is backing European Union plans to introduce an anti-death penalty resolution to the 53-nation Human Rights Commission.
Although the meeting annually calls for a moratorium on the death penalty, it cannot force countries to comply.
Amnesty International said it was particularly concerned about the increasing use of the death penalty for nonviolent offenses, such as homosexuality in Saudi Arabia, drug trafficking in southeast Asia, adultery in Nigeria and Sudan, and corruption or theft in China.
"What these statistics highlight for us is that the death penalty is really used against those most defenseless in society," Amnesty International spokeswoman Judit Arenas said. "Despite a huge amount of public pressure, despite clear legal rulings, despite evidence to prove that it is not a deterrent and despite evidence that innocent people are actually executed, countries pursue this."
Amnesty International also said it was concerned that some countries without a death penalty, such as Canada, have extradited suspects without seeking assurances that the accused would not face death. Most European countries staunchly refuse to extradite any criminal suspect without such a guarantee.
However, Amnesty International said it was encouraged by a reduction in the number of people executed for offenses committed when they were minors.
Three such executions were carried out last year -- in the United States, Iran and Pakistan, Arenas said. There have been 15 such executions in the United States since 1990, the most in the world.
"I think there has been a consensus that the execution of those who committed crimes under the age of majority is something that is unacceptable," Arenas said.