NEW YORK  - Governments around the world are using the threat of terrorism — real or perceived — to advance executions, Amnesty International states in its annual report on the death penalty.

Some 2,466 death sentences were handed out last year, representing a 28 per cent increase on 2013, the rights group said on Wednesday.

Egypt and Nigeria accounted for an alarming rise in the number of death sentences handed out around the world in 2014:

In Egypt, where the government is locked in conflict with supporters of ousted President Muhammad Morsi, the number of death sentences rose to 509 from 109 in 2013.

Nigeria’s numbers, which shot up to 659 from 141, are mainly linked to the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency in the country’s north.

Pakistan lifted a moratorium on the execution of civilians after a school massacre by Taliban militants in December,a move criticised by Amnesty International.

“The dark trend of governments using the death penalty in a futile attempt to tackle real or imaginary threats to State security and public safety was stark last year,”Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s Secretary General, said in a statement. “It is shameful that so many States around the world are essentially playing with people’s lives — putting people to death for ‘terrorism’ or to quell internal instability on the ill-conceived premise of deterrence.”

The report, “Death Sentences and Executions 2014,” cites the example of Pakistan lifting a six-year moratorium on the execution of civilians following the horrific attack on a school in Peshawar in December.

China is also mentioned, as having used the death penalty as a tool in its “Strike Hard” campaign against terrorism in the restive far-western province of Xinjiang. The annual report states the use of State-sanctioned killing as a punitive measure across the globe, and this year’s edition contains some mixed findings.

On one hand, the number of executions worldwide has gone down by almost 22 per cent on the previous year. At least 607 people were executed around the world in 2014, compared to 778 in 2013.

While the report notes some encouraging signs, it also highlights a marked increase in the number of people sentenced to death in 2014. At least 2,466 people globally are confirmed to have been handed the sentence last year, an increase of 28 per cent compared with 2013. The report notes that the spike in sentencing is attributable to mass-sentencing in countries including Egypt and Nigeria, “against scores of people in some cases.” The organisation found “positive developments” worldwide, with most regions seeming to show reductions in the number of executions.

Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, saw a 28 per cent fall in reported cases, and executions recorded in the Middle East and North Africa were down 23 per cent compared to 2013.

The United States has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the Americas to conduct executions, but the number of convicts put to death here fell slightly, from 39 in 2013 to 35 in 2014. The state of Washington also imposed a moratorium on executions last year.  The US remains one of the worst offenders for imposing capital punishment, with only Iran (289+), Iraq (61+), and Saudi Arabia (90+) executing more people in 2014. While figures are not available, Amnesty estimates that China also executes “thousands” of prisoners each year, “more than the rest of the world put together.”

The report also highlights the imperfections in the judiciary processes that lead to many sentenced to death.

“In the majority of countries where people were sentenced to death or executed, the death penalty was imposed after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards,” the report stated.

“In 2014 Amnesty International raised particular concerns in relation to court proceedings in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka.”

The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, last year stressed the need to move toward abolition of capital punishment.  “The taking of life is too irreversible for one human being to inflict it on another,” he said, in marking World Day against Death Penalty in October. “We must continue to argue strongly that the death penalty is unjust and incompatible with fundamental human rights.”  Amnesty estimates that at least 19,094 people were believed to be on death row at the end of 2014.