Executions around the world fell by more than 1,500 last year, as a growing number of nations continued to turn against the death penalty, Amnesty International said Thursday.

There were 2,148 known executions in 22 countries last year, down from 3,797 in 2004, said the London-based group, which opposes the death penalty in all cases.

"There is a global tide against the death penalty which has left us with just the hardened countries still using it," said Amnesty researcher Piers Bannister, who helped compile the organization's latest report on the subject.

"Governments have listened to the arguments of the abolitionists, and there is also an acknowledgment that it is an abuse of human rights," he said.

A total of 5,186 people were sentenced to death in 53 countries in 2005, bringing the number of people awaiting execution to some 20,000, Amnesty said.

In 1977, only 16 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes, the report said. By 2005, that figure had risen to 86. In practice, 122 countries have abandoned executions.

Mexico and Liberia were the latest countries to abolish capital punishment, Amnesty said. Another 11 countries have abolished the death penalty for all but the most exceptional crimes, including war crimes.

Seventy-four countries retain the death penalty. Of those, 25 have not executed anyone in more than a decade, the report said.

China carried out 80 percent of the world's executions last year, the report said. Nearly 70 crimes carry the death penalty in that country, including nonviolent crimes such as tax fraud and embezzlement, the report said.

Some 14 percent of executions were in Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Iran put 94 people to death, Saudi Arabia 86 and the United States 60, the report said.

Amnesty said many of its figures were approximate. China refuses to publish full official statistics on executions, while Vietnam classified its statistics as secrets, it said.

Amnesty International said Iran — the only country known to have executed juvenile offenders in 2005 — killed at least eight people in 2005 for crimes committed while they were children, including two who were under 18 when executed.

The United States banned the execution of juvenile offenders in March 2005, the report noted.

"The fact that the USA, which was the world's main perpetrator for the execution of juvenile offenders, has now ended the practice should be a clear message to those remaining countries that execute children that this barbaric practice must stop," said Amnesty secretary general Irene Khan.