LEICESTER, United Kingdom – England’s bishops have hailed a new report showing that worldwide executions have dropped to their lowest level in a decade.

A new 59-page Amnesty International report, Death Sentences and Executions 2019, showed that worldwide execution numbers decreased for the fourth consecutive year – there were 657 publicly recorded executions in 2019, down from 690 from 2018’s figure of 690.

Bishop Declan Lang, the Chair of the Department for International Affairs at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said he was “very encouraged” that the use of the death penalty had decreased by 5 percent in the past year.

“However, hundreds of people are still being executed by their governments and in some countries, the number has increased dramatically,” the bishop said.

The report showed that Saudi Arabia executed 184 people last year, a record for the country since Amnesty International began keeping track of the use of capital punishment in the country. Iraq doubled its executions last year, from 52 in 2018 to over 100 in 2019. Amnesty International also pointed out that several countries – including China, North Korea, and Vietnam – do not publish execution figures, and probably account for thousands of executions a year, the majority in China.

Only 22 people were executed in the United States in 2019, while just 3 were put to death in Japan. They are the only G7 countries to still use the death penalty.

In his statement, Lang reiterated the Catholic Church’s teaching against the death penalty, and said the Church “works with determination for its abolition.”

“This applies whatever offence somebody has been convicted of and wherever they are in the world,” he said.

The bishop then urged the UK government to put the abolition of death penalty “at the forefront of its foreign policy.”

Britain abolished the death penalty for murder in 1965, and for all other offenses in 1998; the last execution in the country took place in 1964. The UK Foreign Office has pledged to press “for the reduced use of the death penalty overseas, through multilateral institutions and through targeted bilateral interventions.”

Lang said through “committed diplomatic and economic pressure,” the British government can “help maintain the momentum towards ending this gross violation of human dignity where it still exists.”

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome