Amnesty International says there was a surge in the number of executions carried out worldwide in 2011, mainly due to the Middle East.
In an annual report, the group said Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia were most responsible for the increase.
But it also noted that China executed more people than the rest of the world put together.
Overall however, fewer countries now practice the death penalty, the group noted.
It said the number of countries using capital punishment has fallen by a third, compared to a decade ago.
According to the review released today, at least 676 people were executed in 20 countries in 2011 compared with 527 in 23 countries in 2010.
The US ranked fifth in the world in capital punishment, with 43 people executed last year.