Practice Relating to Rule 54. Attacks against Objects Indispensable to the Survival of the Civilian Population
Section A. Attacks against objects
Colombia’s Basic Military Manual (1995) provides that the parties to a conflict must “abstain from attacking those objects and installations that … are indispensable for the well-being and survival [of the civilian population]”.
The manual also states that objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as crops and the areas where they are produced, livestock, drinking water installations and irrigation works, are protected objects.
In a chapter entitled “Provisions of IHL applicable in Colombia”, the manual states that “in all armed conflicts”, it is prohibited to attack objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population as a method of combat.
Colombia’s Penal Code (2000) imposes a criminal sanction on “anyone who, during an armed conflict, attacks, renders useless, damages, removes or appropriates objects or elements indispensable to the survival of the civilian population”.
In 2007, in the Constitutional Case No. C-291/07
, the Plenary Chamber of Colombia’s Constitutional Court stated that the prohibition of attacks on objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population in the 1977 Additional Protocol II “has attained customary status, mainly due to its impact on State practice and on conflicts in the last decades”.
The Court also held:
The principle of distinction is complex and encompasses a number of treaty and customary norms applicable in internal armed conflicts, in addition to, in many cases, enjoying ius cogens
status. These rules [include] … the prohibition to direct attacks against a civilian population’s basic means of survival.
The Court further held that an “element of the principle of distinction is the prohibition against attacking objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, which includes the prohibition … to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to their survival.”
(footnote in original omitted)
In 1994, in reply to a questionnaire from the House of Representatives, Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs quoted Article 14 of the 1977 Additional Protocol II.
The Report on the Practice of Colombia refers to a draft internal working paper in which the Colombian Government stated that it was prohibited “to make the civilian population suffer from hunger or thirst and to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects for this purpose”.