Practice Relating to Rule 6. Civilians’ Loss of Protection from Attack
Section A. Direct participation in hostilities
Colombia’s Instructors’ Manual (1999) states that civilians lose their protection against attack “when they participate directly in the hostilities”.
The manual adds: “Civilians must be understood as those who do not participate directly in military hostilities (internal conflict, international conflict).”
Colombia’s Constitutional Court, reviewing the constitutionality of the Guard and Private Security Statute in 1997, confirmed the view that:
The general protection of the civilian population against the dangers of war also implies that international humanitarian law does not authorize either of the parties to involve this population in the armed conflict, since by doing so it makes the said population into an active participant in that conflict, thereby exposing it to military attacks by the other party.
In 2007, in the Constitutional Case No. C-291/07
, the Plenary Chamber of Colombia’s Constitutional Court stated that “under customary law, civilians … who take a direct part in hostilities shall lose the protection afforded by the principle of distinction if and for such time as they participate in the conflict”.
(footnote in original omitted)
In reaction to an article in the press, the Office of the Human Rights Adviser in the Office of the President of Colombia stated:
With respect to the concept of civilian population, there is probably a confusion in the article … with the notions of combatant and non-combatant. In principle, the civilian population is always considered non-combatant … In a non-international armed conflict, civilians can take up arms and form armed rebel groups, putting themselves outside the laws of the country. They thus become combatants which the State can attack and fight against with perfect legitimacy. As a result, such rebels are criminals and combatants at the same time.
Colombia’s Defensoría del Pueblo (Ombudsman’s Office), with respect to “convivir”, considered that:
These organizations, nurtured by the national government itself, contribute nothing to the immunity of the civilian population, since they involve citizens in the armed conflict, divesting them of their protected status and making them into legitimate targets of attack … In the view of the Ombudsman’s Office, the operation of the Convivir
cooperatives means that civilians participate directly in the armed conflict, thereby becoming combatants.
The Report on the Practice of Colombia states:
In Colombia, communal guard and private security services have been created under the name “convivir
”. These services take the form of rural security cooperatives composed of individuals whom the State has authorized to bear arms, and who collaborate with the authorities by providing information to the public security forces concerning the activities of the guerrilla organizations. There is a public debate over the question of whether the members of these services should be considered civilians or combatants.