Most Buddhist majority nations have capital punishment.
Posted on July 18th, 2018

 Dilrook Kannangara

In Thailand death sentence is imposed on 35 crimes including murder and drug trafficking. It’s the same in Myanmar with a smaller number of offences carrying the death penalty. Although no one was actually put to death since 1988, the option is open and available as no policy restriction exists against it. Vietnam has a very effective death penalty that is regularly carried out. As a result narcotics offences, treason and corruption are under control. China, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and North Korea are other Buddhist majority nations with the death penalty. South Korea has declared a presidential moratorium against death penalty in 1998 mainly due to its changing religious outlook. Christians are the most influential in South Korea and it is expected to become a Christian majority nation within a decade.

Laos has not officially abolished the death penalty though due to severe pressure has acceded to Amnesty International to abolish it. Given its extreme poverty, Laos has been unable to make its own decisions independently. Cambodia is the only ASEAN country along with Christian Philippines to abolish death penalty. This is mainly due to poverty and resultant pressure from Western donors. Bhutan has also abolished death penalty as it is severely influenced by India.

The case for Sri Lanka is complicated. Although Sri Lanka has a nominal Buddhist majority, it never followed any Buddhist majority nation on policy matters. Colombo always followed the Christian West on all policy matters. This is due to complete economic, legal, attitudinal and governance dependence on the Christian West. All elected national leaders, except two, either have been educated under very strong Christian schooling or have very close and influential Christian family members. The only two exceptions are presidents Jayawardene and Sirisena. However, they too were strongly pro-western. Except USA, almost all Christian majority nations oppose the death penalty.

Traditionally, when Sri Lanka was governed by Buddhist kings, death penalty was very much active. Spearing, body slitting, hanging, severing the head and other means were used to put criminals to death.

Although Sri Lankan government doesn’t carry out the death penalty, at least 150 persons, mostly Buddhist women, are condemned to death every year. They are housemaids exported to the Middle East and come home in coffins every year. Part of their foreign currency earnings go to pay for narcotics imports. There are extra judicial executions in Sri Lanka since 1971 that have killed tens of thousands.

Post-war Sri Lanka is a narcotics hub. Since 2009, there are multiple narcotics entry points. The north is now the most used narcotics entry point. A President, a Prime Minister, a police chief, ministers, MPs and lesser politicians have been associated with drug dealers. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely Sri Lanka will execute them. Nothing less than the capital punishment deters drug dealers. Unfortunately, most victims of narcotics are Buddhists while most drug dealers are Muslims, Hindus and Christians in that order. Yet, strangely, some Buddhists don’t care enough. They must answer a simple question, honestly, if they can – what would ancient Buddhist kings, national heroes like Anagarika Dharmapala and the most Buddhist national leader Sirima Bandaranaike choose if faced with the drug menace and capital punishment?

10 Responses to “Most Buddhist majority nations have capital punishment.”

  1. NeelaMahaYoda Says:


    It is completely wrong to say “Nothing less than the capital punishment deters drug dealers”

    How do they control and suppress drug dealers in UK, Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

    Capital punishment in Australia has been abolished in all jurisdictions. Queensland abolished the death penalty in 1922. Tasmania did the same in 1968, the federal government abolished the death penalty in 1973, with application also in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

    It is true that some of the Buddhist countries still use capital punishment. But In terms of doctrine the death penalty is clearly inconsistent with Buddhist teaching. Buddhists place great emphasis on non-violence and compassion for all life. The First Precept requires individuals to abstain from injuring or killing any living creature.

    The Buddha did not explicitly speak about capital punishment, but his teachings show no sympathy for physical punishment, no matter how bad the crime.

    An action, even if it brings benefit to oneself, cannot be considered a good action if it causes physical and mental pain to another being. -The Buddha

  2. Dharmasiri Weerasinghe Says:

    Countries which retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes
    CONGO (Democratic Republic)
    KOREA (North)

  3. Dilrook Says:


    What works in those western Christian societies doesn’t work for Asian countries. We must look for Asian nations, not towards west to find solutions to this problem. Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and even Thailand are very good systems to copy. They work far better than us. Death certainly deters drug dealers. This is why Singapore, Japan and Saudi Arabia have far less of the drug problem than the western nations you mentioned. Sri Lanka is a fantastic example of exploding high crimes after death penalty was abolished in 1977. Anyone can see how low major crimes were before that and how high it is now. Open economy is not the main reason as Singapore, Taiwan and Japan have far more open economies than us for longer but drug use and trade is far less thanks to the death penalty.

    Buddhist and Christian personal views on the matter must be kept out of governance and law as Sri Lanka is neither a Buddhist nor a Christian nation legally.

    However, I have no confidence in Sirisena to carry it out. He cannot get anything done. Obviously other political parties will not do it either as their leaders are associated with drug dealers. Buddhists are the most if not main victims of narcotics use and if they don’t support the death penalty, narcotics will play a huge role in weakening the community.

  4. Vaisrawana Says:

    Such frivolous, unqualified, generalizations are prejudicial to Buddhism. What we normally call religion is based on belief, not reason, hence is irrational and immoral, because sustained by falsehood. Buddhism is the only rational ‘religious’ philosophy ever enunciated that will save human civilization (nay, humanity itself) from the annihilationist religious fundamentalism of fanatical Abrahamic religions. Advancing scientific knowledge will in time definitely replace blind religious belief. Obscurantist religious faiths symbiotically allied with tyrannical political power around the world are at present encroaching on the peaceful Buddhist space through subterfuge as well as through barefaced aggression, as can be seen in Sri Lanka today.

  5. Dilrook Says:

    Thanks for the list Dharmasiri.

    Out of top 20 Asian economies, 17 have the death penalty.

    Only 3 exceptions are South Korea, the Philippines and Israel – all US outposts.

    Which group should Sri Lanka belong? Sadly, Sri Lanka is with the wrong crowd on this matter.

  6. Randeniyage Says:

    It is not right to say “Most Buddhist majority nations have capital punishment” and then argue we too must have. We should decide right or wrong on our own reasoning.

    Neela says “the Buddha did not explicitly speak about capital punishment” which is true but Buddha always acknowledged evil action by kings and criminals exist in the world. Buddha intervened only when Angulimala was about to kill his mother knowing that he has the capability to become an Arahant.
    If you take “Kakachupama Sutta” ( simile of the saw ) , whilst it acknowledges that two strong men catch get another man and start cutting limbs one by one ( two me could be carrying out king’s instruction or they can be drug lords), if that person is follower of Buddha, he should never have anger towards the two people who is cutting his limbs. That is how extremely non-violent or peaceful Buddhism is.

    I will argue since our constitution is giving foremost place to Buddhism, we shouldn’t have Capital Punishment.

    If there is proper law and order and no corruption, there is no need for CP.

    Problem with poor countries is some people prefer to be in the jail because they have no income and poor, so people don’t mind killing another or drugs for money. Their life is miserable anyway. Thus, Dilrook’s argument is credible but shouldn’t they deserve some food and a livelihood instead ?
    Our problem is politicians too are involved in drugs. I remember even the priminster’s office made a call to release a container with hidden drugs (during the previous government). It is a problem of not having proper politicians but criminals as politicians and bigger criminals being not punished. Killing poor , street level drug dealer selling 2 grams doesn’t make any sense, specially in our country where the police can place some drugs and catch him to get him the CP.

  7. Dilrook Says:

    A small correction to the above comment.

    Out of top 20 Asian economies, 18 have the death penalty.

    Only 2 exceptions are South Korea and Israel – both US outposts. The Philippines has official and unofficial death penalty for drug dealers since Dutarte was elected President. In fact, it was one of his election winning promises.

    Which group should Sri Lanka belong? Sadly, Sri Lanka is with the wrong crowd on this matter.

  8. Christie Says:

    In the so called West that do not carry death penalty:

  9. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Your argument does not make any sense. See below the facts and figures.

    In Asia-Pacific at least 93 executions in nine countries were known to have been carried out throughout the region in 2017 – down from at least 130 in 11 countries in 2016. The decrease was linked to a decline in Pakistan, where executions reduced by 31%. These figures do not include the thousands of executions that Amnesty International believed were carried out in China.

    Singapore doubled its number of executions (from 4 to 8) compared to 2016. All its executions were for drug-related offences.

    At least 1,037 new death sentences were imposed, a slight decrease from 2016. This number is down to a variation in figures for a number of countries, and because of information provided to Amnesty International by authorities. Figures for death sentences in India, Indonesia Pakistan and Thailand, among other countries, were lower compared to 2016.
    Increases were recorded in countries including Bangladesh (from at least 245 to at least 273), Singapore (from at least 7 to 15) and Sri Lanka (from at least 79 to 218).

    These figures are negligible when compared to worldwide figures

    Countries with the Most Confirmed Executions in 2017
    1. China (1,000s *see above) 5. Pakistan (60+)
    2. Iran (507+) 6. Egypt (35+)
    3. Saudi Arabia (146+) 7. Somalia (24)
    4. Iraq (125+) 8. United States (23)
    Countries with the Most Death Sentences in 2017**
    1. China (1,000s *see above) 4. Bangladesh (273+)
    2. Nigeria (641) 5. Sri Lanka (218)
    3. Egypt (402+) 6. Pakistan (200+)
    ** Death-sentencing totals unknown for Iran, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea

    In 2017, sub-Saharan Africa became a beacon of hope as it took positive strides towards abolishing the death penalty once and for all.
    Guinea became the 20th state in the region to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, while Kenya abolished the mandatory death penalty for murder. The president of Gambia also established an official moratorium (temporary ban) on executions in February 2018.
    Indonesia did not carry out any executions at all last year, and Iran and Malaysia made important changes to their anti-drugs laws to reduce the use of the death penalty.

  10. Dilrook Says:


    Not all countries with the death sentence kill every year. It is a policy that can be used when needed to execute. This option is available in 18 out of 20 top Asian economies (death sentence is carried out). Even Sri Lanka had it from 1948-57 and from 1960 to 1977 (approximate).

    Japan and Taiwan are top democracies with the death penalty.

    It is not a contest who executes most. It is about executing criminals as per the law when needed.

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