The Exhibitionism of Necrophilia:
The Subhuman in the Sinhala-Buddhist Psyche
- obsession with and usually erotic
interest in or stimulation by corpses ]
Giuseppe. C. Luciani
Courtesy: Centre for Journalism with Ethics and Truth (CJET)
24 October 2007
"...What the Sinhalese government did this Tuesday morning
is a clear incident for a war crimes hearing in The Hague, Holland..."
The Sinhala politico-military regime’s deviation from reality by
the abhorrent and convulsive display of naked dead bodies of enemy soldiers, in
this case, black tiger LTTE commando unit is a blatant violation of the norms of
war and is a bestial affirmation of a State’s moral bankruptcy.
reported by many news agencies as PTI, REUTERS, AFP and PT that Sri Lankan
military with the advice of the authorities stripped the bodies of Tamil Tiger
guerrillas killed in an attack in Anuradhapura Air Force Base and put them on
public display. The tractor in which these bodies are taken is driven by army
personnel with Sinhala Police escorting the tractor, local residents said.
According to the opposition
Lankadissent.com website, the bodies were displayed to "prevent the
mentality of defeat from entering the public mindset in the aftermath of this
major military debacle."
In the past I have read many reports that whenever the government of Sri Lanka
refused to receive the bodies of Sinhala soldiers, the LTTE cremated them with
military honors. The ICRC is a witness to this reality. I have myself seen this
in Jaffna and Wanni when I was working there.
The LTTE went to Anuradhapura as warriors and died as valiant soldiers. They
went to fight the Sinhala military machine in its own cave. Judging by the world
press and media reports the LTTE achieved their targets with astounding
precision and meticulousness.
Many IGOs and NGOs would confirm the fact that the LTTE learnt a great deal
about the morality of war and peace in the past thirty years. But the Sinhalese
who have been fighting to decimate the Tamils for the past twenty centuries have
a long way to go in learning not only how to deal with the living but much more
about how to deal with the dead in their own homes and outside. So I present
below a few insights for their reflection.
What the Sinhalese government did this Tuesday morning is a clear incident for a
war crimes hearing in Den Hague, Holland.
I am quoting in toto the excellent words of wisdom written just two years ago by
Wayne Elliot in his highly acclaimed book, Crimes of War: Dead and Wounded.
“In 1967 a U.S. Army sergeant in Vietnam posed for a
photograph. The photograph, later published nationally, showed the sergeant
holding the decapitated heads of two enemy corpses. The soldier was
court-martialed and convicted of “conduct prejudicial to good order and
There were other reports of U.S. soldiers cutting the ears
and fingers off the enemy dead. Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of U.S.
forces in Vietnam, denounced the mutilation of dead bodies as “subhuman” and
“contrary to all policy and below the minimum standards of human decency.”
Not only is the mistreatment of dead bodies “contrary to all policy,” it is
also a violation of the laws of war.
One of the consequences of war is the death of some of those who get caught
up in it. From time immemorial, the proper disposal of the dead has been a
military concern. In earlier times the proper disposal of the battlefield
dead often had religious overtones. Also, the dead on the battlefield were
an immediate hygienic problem. Often, the need to avoid the diseases which
could come from the untended dead was enough to force some humane disposal
of the bodies. But, the law does not rely solely on the religious practices
or the health concerns of the living. The proper disposal of the dead is now
mandated by law.
The main obligation to the dead is now found in Article 15 of the First
Geneva Convention. The thrust of that article is the need to aid the
wounded. However, it also provides that the parties must “at all times, and
particularly after an engagement… search for the dead and prevent their
being despoiled.” The article also says that “whenever circumstances
permit,” an armistice should be concluded so as to facilitate the search for
the wounded. Of course, while searching for the wounded, the dead would also
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Commentary to the Geneva
Convention says that the dead must be brought back along with the wounded.
One reason for this is that in the highly charged atmosphere of the
battlefield, it might not always be possible to determine who is really dead
and who is seriously wounded. Another reason is that the laws of war require
that an effort be made to identify the dead and to provide a proper burial.
The treatment of the battlefield dead can be divided into two aspects.
First, there is a prohibition on deliberate mistreatment of the body, either
through failure to treat it with appropriate respect or through mutilation.
Second, there is a prohibition on pillaging the dead. These mandates
concerning the dead are as much derived from the customary laws of war as
from the Geneva Conventions.
The Geneva Conventions take the customary rules further. In
Article 16 of the First Geneva Convention, we find an obligation for the
party that has the body to send to the other party (usually through a
neutral power or the ICRC) written evidence of death. Where the body is
identified with the required double identity disk, one half of the disk,
along with any personal effects found on the body, is to be sent to the
Article 17 of the First Geneva Convention is concerned specifically with
the burial of the battlefield dead. The bodies are to be examined,
preferably by a person with medical skills, so as to confirm death. Burial
is to be, where possible, in individual graves. The idea is that individual
graves would be more consistent with the general requirement that the dead
be respected, and also that individual burial would make subsequent
exhumation easier. The requirement, however, is not absolute. Climate,
sanitation, and hygiene may make mass burial the only proper action. The
remaining half of the double identity disk must remain with the body.
Cremation is prohibited except where it is based on the religion of the
deceased or where imperative reasons of hygiene justify cremation.
Where possible, the burial or cremation is to be done in accordance with the
religious rites of the deceased. The bodies are to be grouped according to
nationality and the cemeteries mapped in such a way as to make later
exhumation easier. This is the core of the Geneva Convention duty to the
dead—they are to be treated honorably and their graves protected.
Mutilation of the dead is actually a fairly rare occurrence in
well-disciplined armies. This is probably as much the result of a general
revulsion at such conduct as from a fear of criminal punishment. However,
pillaging the dead is a greater problem. In World War II the U.S. Army
prohibited soldiers taking as “war trophies” any item that evidenced
disrespectful treatment of the dead. A similar prohibition exists today.
Nonetheless, there is a recognized right to search the dead for information
that might be of some intelligence value. But private property of the
deceased must be safeguarded for later delivery to the deceased’s own
As this summary indicates, the duty owed to the dead is somewhat subjective.
What sort of conduct constitutes disrespect? How can we determine when
neglect of the dead has ceased to be mandated by considerations of military
necessity and become evidence of the war crime of mistreatment of the dead?
There are no hard and fast answers to these questions.
However, if the dead are left on the battlefield for some
time after the fighting has ended, their very presence is evidence of
failure to meet the obligations imposed by law. If the dead are left on the
field solely so that they might be seen by journalists or photographed, that
is stronger evidence that the threshold of mistreatment is near.
If the dead are placed on display as propaganda
(dragging the bodies through the streets as occurred in Somalia is a
ready example), then the threshold has been crossed and a war crime has
been clearly committed.
The laws of war accept that death is an inherent part of
war. They also recognize that the disposal of the dead will be given less
immediacy than the care of the living.
The raison d’etre for protecting and honoring the dead is captured in the
inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery: “Here Rests
in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known But to God.” "
That sentiment is not one peculiar to Americans. The Sinhala
authorities who are prosecuting this war against their Tamil nationality with
such subhuman disposition should learn more about THE RULES OF WAR than just
killing – a feat they have been engaging in with the
advice of their monks
for over twenty centuries.