The United States placed fifth overall on a list of nations that executed the most people in 2011, according to human rights advocacy group Amnesty International.

Amnesty, which compiles its report every year, opposes capital punishment in all circumstances, regardless of allegations against those facing the death penalty.

It noted that the U.S. shares its dubious ranking with countries like China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which round out the top five. China was by far the worst offender, and the group said it suspects that thousands were executed last year, but they could not provide an estimate because those numbers are suppressed.

But it's not all bad news for anti-death penalty activists: overall, just 10 percent of the 198 nations around the world still engage in capital punishment, a reduction over recent years, Amnesty said.

Additionally, just 43 people were executed in the U.S. in 2011, which is down by a third from 2001. Amnesty also pointed out that just 78 new death sentences were issued by U.S. courts in 2011 -- down by 50 percent since 2001.

While 34 U.S. states have the death penalty, just 13 states carried out executions, and Texas was once again atop the list with a total of 13. Lethal injection was the only method of execution used in the U.S., but around the world, other states also relied on shootings, hangings and decapitations to dispatch prisoners.

While America was the only nation in the western hemisphere that killed some of its accused criminals in 2011, other countries like Cuba do have the death penalty, but they did not execute any prisoners last year.

Overall, the number of executions globally in 2011 accelerated largely due to Middle Eastern nations cracking down on protest movements. Amnesty was able to pinpoint at least 558 state sanctioned executions in 15 Middle Eastern nations in 2011, but their work was hampered by ongoing violence in countries like Libya, Yemen and Syria.

Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Amnesty said, were the worst offenders in the region.

"The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights," Amnesty said. "It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is done in the name of justice. It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Read the whole report (PDF).

The video below was published Tuesday, March 27, 2012 by Amnesty International.

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