As new figures reveal a dramatic fall in the number of executions worldwide, the Catholic Church is urging the UK Government to play a leading role in promoting the global abolition of the death penalty.
Amnesty International's global review found that executions fell by 31 per cent between 2017 and 2018, from at least 993 to at least 690, the lowest numbers in a decade. Iran saw the biggest drop, with executions falling by 50 per cent.
Although official figures in China are classified, it topped the nations for the highest rate of executions, with Amnesty saying the numbers were likely to be in the thousands.
Despite the significant decrease in executions around the world, Amnesty voiced concern that several countries saw a rise, including Belarus, Japan, Singapore, South Sudan and the US.
"The dramatic global fall in executions proves that even the most unlikely countries are starting to change their ways and realize the death penalty is not the answer," said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International's Secretary General.
"Despite regressive steps from some, the number of executions carried out by several of the worst perpetrators has fallen significantly. This is a hopeful indication that it's only a matter of time before this cruel punishment is consigned to history, where it belongs."
Responding to the figures, the lead Catholic Bishop for International Affairs, Bishop Declan Lang, called upon the UK to use its diplomatic and economic influence to press for an end to the use of the death penalty internationally.
"The continued decline in capital punishment gives us cause for hope that this attack on the inviolability and dignity of every human person may eventually be confined to history," he said.
"Once again, I urge our government to redouble its efforts towards promoting global abolition of the death penalty.
"There are both diplomatic and economic means of driving forward this goal. For example the UK has trade offices in more than half of the twenty countries that executed their own citizens last year.
"I hope that Catholics will continue to speak up on behalf of those at risk of execution and pray for all those affected."