LONDON, April 18 (AFP)--The human rights group Amnesty International said Tuesday that 1,813 people were executed in 31 countries last year and it called for a worldwide end to use of the death penalty.

"The figures for China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States accounted for 85 per cent of all known executions in 1999," Amnesty said in a statement released here.

The group called on the UN Commission on Human Rights to take a strong stand against the death penalty at its annual session underway in Geneva.

But the organisation cautioned that the figure released Tuesday represented only known cases of executions.

"It is impossible to give a complete total because many countries deliberately keep the true numbers secret to avoid international condemnation, " it said, giving the example of Iraq.

"The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and a violation of the right to life," Amnesty said.

It said while the overall figure was down on the 2,258 executions recorded in 1998, certain countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States recorded more executions last year.

"In Saudi Arabia the rate of executions has risen significantly. In 1998, 29 people were officially reported to have been executed. Last year, 103 executions were officially announced although the real figure is probably much higher."

The United States executed 98 prisoners last year, 30 more than in 1998, Amnesty said.

"China continues to execute more people than the rest of the world put together. In 1999, limited records available at the end of the year indicated that the authorities carried out at least 1,077 executions, although the true figures are believed to be far higher," it said.

Amnesty said up to 100 people were executed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after being sentenced to death by a military court.

However, Amnesty said their had been some significant progress towards abolition of the death penalty.

"At the turn of the last century only three countries in the world had permanently abolished the death penalty. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, 108 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice," it said.

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