Reducing suffering during armed conflict: Interface between Buddhism and IHL
Though there are over half a billion Buddhists around the world, there has so far been no systematic and focused study of the interface between Buddhism and International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The core of IHL – also known as “the law of war” or “the law of armed conflict”– is formed by the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. Its purpose is to minimize suffering during armed conflict by protecting those who do not – or no longer – participate directly in hostilities, and by regulating the means and methods of warfare.
Buddhism has grappled with the reality of war throughout its long history. But what guidance does Buddhism provide to those caught up in the midst of hostilities, and how do Buddhism and IHL compare in this respect? It is timely and relevant to explore these two distinct bodies of ethics and legal traditions from inter-disciplinary perspectives.
This conference, organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in collaboration with a number of universities and organizations, will explore correspondences between Buddhism and IHL and encourage a constructive dialogue and exchange between the two domains. The conference will act as a springboard to understanding how Buddhism can contribute to regulating armed conflict, and what it offers in terms of guidance on the conduct of, and behavior during, war for Buddhist monks and lay persons – the latter including government and military personnel, non-State armed groups and civilians. The conference is concerned with the conduct of armed conflict, and not with the reasons and justifications for it, which fall outside the remit of IHL.
In addition to exploring correspondences between IHL and Buddhist ethics, the conference will also explore how Buddhist combatants and communities understand IHL, and where it might align with Buddhist doctrines and practices: similarly, how their experience of armed conflict might be drawn upon to better promote IHL and Buddhist principles, thereby improving conduct of hostilities on the ground.
Papers presented at the conference must address at least one of the following lead questions:
1. What correspondences are there between Buddhist ethics and IHL?
2. Where does IHL fit into Buddhist doctrines and practices? Which Buddhist teachings and traditions are most relevant to IHL and situations of armed conflict?
3. What measures are helpful in regulating warfare and reducing suffering during armed conflict according to Buddhist teachings and traditions?
4. How do Buddhist communities conceptualize and understand IHL, and where can IHL be seen to align with Buddhist doctrines and practices?
5. What level of agreement and commitment for IHL – in general, and its various specific aspects – can be expected from Buddhist communities? What is a Buddhist theoretical position on IHL and how can Buddhists engage with this body of law?
6. What practical guidance and resources can Buddhist teaching and practice provide to Buddhist combatants and communities involved in armed conflict, and also what direct experiences of armed conflict can be drawn upon to help improve the conduct of hostilities?
7. To examine and document Buddhist religious teaching, practices and approaches to specific IHL-related problems such as the handling and treatment of casualties and dead bodies during armed conflict, and the treatment of prisoners of war/detainees.
8. To examine how the application of Buddhist principles has had a positive effect on the conduct of armed conflict in Buddhist history.