Amnesty International's interim Secretary General has hailed recent global efforts to end the death penalty but warned that more needs to be done to achieve the goal of full abolition.
Claudio Cordone told delegates at an anti-death penalty summit in Geneva that campaigners were "winning" the fight against capital punishment.
"The day is coming when we can see an end to the death penalty worldwide. We must push on to consign the death penalty to join apartheid, slavery and torture as embarrassments to human history," Cordone told members of the 4th World Coalition Against the Death Penalty on Wednesday.
In 2009, for the first time in modern history, the whole of Europe was execution-free. Burundi and Togo became the 94th and 95th countries worldwide to entirely remove state killings from their law, while several other nations reduced - or stopped - executions.
Among them was Pakistan, which carried out no executions in 2009 compared to at least 36 killings the year before.
Other countries who did not execute in 2009 include Indonesia, India, Mongolia, Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan.
However, the progress was tempered by the use of executions for political purposes in Iran. China and Saudi Arabia also continued to carry out frequent executions, while Saudi Arabia and Iran continued to execute child offenders.
"We don't know exactly how many thousands of people are being executed in China, it's still a shameful state secret," said Cordone. "while in the USA we still see grotesque incidents such as the botched execution of a man who after two hours of failed attempts to kill him obtained a reprieve, now awaits a new date for his death.
"Those countries which persist in pursuing such an obscene punishment are steadily isolating themselves from the international community, becoming a hard core that we need to challenge with increased assertiveness," said Cordone, welcoming the cooperation between civil society, governments and intern-governmental organizations in the fight to rid the world of the death penalty.
More than 1900 activists from over 100 countries were expected to gather at the World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Geneva on 24, 25, 26 February.