By Harsha Gunasena
When a war is fought between two parties, there are rules agreed upon and applied. War is a test of strength and in the civilised world it is understood that the parties to it would follow the rules of war. Mahabharatha was the oldest instance where rules of war were stipulated.
Mahabharatha was an ancient Hindu epic which described a war between Kauravas and Pandavas of the same clan. Capital of the kauravas was Hastinapura ruled by Dhritarashtra and that of the Pandavas was Indraprastha ruled by Yudhishthira.
The origin of the dispute was a game of dice between Duryodhana, son of Dhritarashtra and his Pandava cousins where Duryodhana won the game by deceit forcing Pandavas to transfer their entire territories to the Kauravas and to go into exile for 13 years. After the period of exile Duryodhna refused to hand over the territories back and as a result the war started. Pandava means five brothers, Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva.
Rules of war
Rules of war agreed upon are as follows.
1.Fighting must begin no earlier than sunrise and end exactly at sunset.
2.More than one warrior may not attack a single warrior.
3.Two warriors may “duel,” or engage in prolonged personal combat, only if they carry the same weapons and they are on the same type of mount (on foot, on a horse, on an elephant, or in a chariot).
4.No warrior may kill or injure a warrior who has surrendered.
5.One who surrenders becomes a prisoner of war and will then be subject to the protections of a prisoner of war.
6.No warrior may kill or injure an unarmed warrior.
7.No warrior may kill or injure an unconscious warrior.
8.No warrior may kill or injure a person or animal not taking part in the war.
9.No warrior may kill or injure a warrior whose back is turned away.
10.No warrior may attack a woman.
11.No warrior may strike an animal not considered a direct threat.
12.The rules specific to each weapon must be followed. For example, it is prohibited to strike below the waist in mace warfare.
13.Warriors may not engage in any unfair warfare.
During the war in some instances, in fact at very vital points, these rules were broken. Battle lasted for eighteen days and on the 13th day second rule was broken when Abhimanyu of Pandavas was attacked by many worriers and was killed. On the 14th day the first rule was broken and the battle continued after sunset. On the 15th day when Drona, then the leader of Kaurava army, laid down his arms on hearing that his son has died, Dhristadyumna killed him breaking the 6th rule. On the 18th day in a mace battle Bhima attacked Duryodhana beneath the waist in which he was mortally wounded and the 12th rule was broken. On the same day which was the last day Kauravas attacked the Pandava camp in the night killing many of them breaking the 1st and probably the 6th rules.
Finally the Pandavas won the war although their strength was lesser compared to Kaurava army. It was told that they fought a war of righteousness considering the cause of war although they broke many a rules!
International Humanitarian Law
Rules of war were developed over a period and now we have International Humanitarian Law which is the law regulates the armed conflicts in today’s context. Given below are the rules of war.
1.Persons hors de combat (outside of combat), and those not taking part in hostilities, shall be protected and treated humanely.
2.It is forbidden to kill or injure an enemy combatant who surrenders, or who is hors de combat.
3.The wounded and the sick shall be cared for and protected by the party to the conflict which has them in its power. The emblem of the ‘Red Cross,’ or of the ‘Red Crescent,’ shall be required to be respected as the sign of protection.
4.Captured combatants and civilians must be protected against acts of violence and reprisals. They shall have the right to correspond with their families and to receive relief.
5.No-one shall be subjected to torture, corporal punishment, or cruel or degrading treatment.
6.Parties to a conflict, and members of their armed forces, do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare.
7.Parties to a conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants. Attacks shall be directed solely against military objectives.
Wars in ancient days were fought by the soldiers face to face and therefore the rules were more like that of a boxing ring. Over the period methodologies of warfare were changed. However the essence of both set of rules is the same which means protecting the injured and those who have surrendered. Since the methodologies of warfare changed later, the recent rules provide for the protection of civilians.
As far as the Pandavas are concerned there were hardly any survivors of the other side and for that matter there were very few neutrals including younger brother of Dhritarashtra, and Balarama. Otherwise Pandavas would have been answerable as war criminals. However finally at the end of Mahabharatha, only Yudhisthira, the lone survivor after ruling 36 years after the war and being of pious heart, was invited by Dharma to enter the heavens as a mortal.
Rules are broken very often
Although the rules are there during a war, those are broken very often. However, the authorities should not encourage breaking of rules by their respective armies. If there is any lapse those should be disclosed and the offenders should be punished. Otherwise the credibility of war victory would be shattered in the eyes of the neutral observers. That is what happened to the Sri Lankan Army today.
The main point that damaged the credibility was the deliberate lie of the Government that there were zero casualties of the civilians. In the past we had credible investigations of crimes during insurgency. Examples were the case of Premawathi Manamperi when Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the Prime Minister at the time of 1971 insurrection and the case of Krishanthi Cumaraswamy during the time of President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
Moreover, the Sinhalese think that they have a proud history of following rules of war such as not to fight an enemy if he is not armed properly. Their hero Dutugemunu in order to save the lives of the both armies suggested to have a one-to-one fight with Elara who agreed to the suggestion irrespective of the fact that he was in his seventies compared to young Dutugemunu.
Once the old king was fallen Dutugemunu in order to respect him erected a tomb for him and ordered that anyone who passes by the tomb in a vehicle should get down and walk that distance. This rule was observed centuries down the line. When Keppetipola was sent by the British rulers to defeat the 1818 insurrection with a British Army, he took the side of the rebellions considering that their cause was just and returned the British soldiers with their arms. Although he was defeated and killed by the British, he was considered a hero by all because of his gracious act.
Investigation of war crimes
Ravinatha Ariyasinha, the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka at United Nations Human Rights Council declared at the recent 26th Regular Sessions in Geneva that the Government of Sri Lanka would not cooperate with the international investigation of war crimes to be carried out under the patronage of the Council. Although the decision was made the Government plays politics with that by referring it to the Parliament.
There should have been a credible domestic investigation long time ago. Sometime back the allegations of genocide against the Sri Lankan Army were renewed at Geneva. This allegation would come down the line over and over again if it is not cleared by an investigation. Genocide in true sense comes to effect when the population of the alleged oppressor ratifies what happened. Therefore it is up to the majority Sinhalese to clear their name and the name of their Army to avoid any black marks in the history. Then only it can be considered that they follow the path followed by their historical heroes.
Let alone what happened at the final stages of war, investigations of the killing of five school boys of Trincomalee and the assassination of 17 aid workers of Action Against Hunger are still pending. As pointed out by JVP there is a series of inquiries to be held including Rathupaswala incident, Welikada prison incident, the killing at FTZ protests and so on.
If there are allegations against the Sri Lankan Army, there should be a credible investigation so that any war crime should be punished and the name of the rest should be cleared. Then and then only the rest can be considered as war heroes. If any one wonders why there is no adequate international credit to the Army which defeated the most dangerous terrorist movement in recent times of the world history, the answer is there. War heroes would not commit war crimes and those who have committed war crimes cannot be war heroes.
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and holds a Master of Business Administration degree awarded by the Postgraduate Institute of Management of University of Sri Jayewardenepura.)