While a rich body of Buddhist writings exist on how to avoid violence, few examine how to practice Buddhist values and regulate conduct during armed conflict. This new volume, “Buddhism and International Humanitarian Law,” fills this gap.
The book’s authors reveal a pragmatic and clear-eyed Buddhist approach to minimizing the suffering caused by war that both underlines and enhances IHL. They also address commonly held misperceptions about Buddhism, for example that it is anti-military, and they argue that Buddhism understands that defensive or protective war is sometimes necessary.
The book finds that Buddhist combatants must balance Buddhist and humanitarian ideals with military goals.
“As a religion of peace, there is a conundrum concerning whether Buddhism also has a message for the conduct of war. The rich panoply of articles in this volume shows that it does. Notions of compassion, kindness and tolerance emanating from Buddhist roots all help to undergird core IHL principles such as distinction, military necessity, proportionality and precaution, thereby helping to protect those not directly involved in hostilities,” Vitit Muntarbhorn, professor emeritus at Chulalongkorn University and current UN Special Rapporteur on the U.N. Human Rights Council, said in a review of the book.
Given that Buddhists are included in the armed forces of many other nations, the ICRC launched a project on Buddhism and IHL in 2017, as little attention had previously been paid to Buddhism’s potential to inform the conduct of contemporary war.
Although Buddhists have been fighting wars for 2,500 years, Buddhism and war are commonly regarded as incompatible, and Buddhist resources to restrain war are often therefore unexplored. A chapter in this new book explores whether Buddhism can support IHL to humanise the conduct of war. It argues that the fundamental principles of Buddhist ethics mean that it is in the interest of belligerents to minimise the harm they inflict on others, and the karmic consequences to themselves, very much in line with IHL principles.
“Though both Buddhism and international humanitarian law have exactly the same intention to reduce human suffering, this ICRC-supported book represents the first concerted effort to bring them together,” Ven. Khammai Dhammasami, Shan State Buddhist University, said in a review of the book.
The book contains a deep analysis of Buddhist ethical principles and of guidance Buddhist teachings provide to soldiers, including for their application in military training. The case is made that Buddhism endorses the maintenance of disciplined, virtuous and skilled military forces to defend what is good.
“Both Buddhism and IHL accept the reality of conflict and try to find a path aimed at reducing suffering,” said Daniel Ratheiser of the ICRC’s Global Affairs department and a co-editor of the book. “Buddhist ethics also broadly align with the rules of international humanitarian law, while Buddhist psychological resources can help support IHL to improve compliance with common humanitarian norms. Indeed, its mindfulness techniques can support even non-Buddhist combatants by enhancing their psychological resilience and capacity to fight with skill and restraint.”
More details about this publication and the ICRC’s engagement on Buddhism and IHL are available on the ICRC’s Religion and Humanitarian Principles website.
For more information, please contact:
Jason Straziuso, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 949 3512 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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