Reducing Suffering During Conflict: The Interface Between Buddhism And International Humanitarian Law

Contemporary Buddhism 21 (1-2):369-435 (2020)


ABSTRACT This article stems from a project launched by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2017 to examine the degree to which Buddhism might complement or enhance international humanitarian law, also known as ‘the law of war’ or ‘the law of armed conflict’. Given that Buddhist teachings discourage violence, scholarship has critiqued Buddhists’ involvement in armed conflict rather than considered how Buddhism might contribute to regulating the conduct of hostilities once war has broken out. Yet the Buddhist aim to reduce suffering is particularly relevant during armed conflict, and the empirical realism of early Buddhist texts shows that early Buddhist communities were very much aware of its grim reality. The article investigates the evidence for this empirical realism before exploring a range of concepts, doctrines and practices from within Buddhism that are pertinent to the recognition and implementation of IHL principles and the conduct of war. While IHL lays down explicit rules to follow during war, Buddhism emphasises broader ethical principles to be applied, so as not to dilute its ideal of non-violence. At a deeper level, it addresses the intention or motivation of parties to armed conflict, and possesses psychological insights and resources to help change their behaviour.

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