Practice Relating to Rule 54. Attacks against Objects Indispensable to the Survival of the Civilian Population
In 1998, an ICRC publication entitled “Spared from the Spear” recorded traditional Somali practice in warfare as follows:
The leader … gave out the following instructions which were to be strictly followed:
12. You should leave the cleft-hoofed animals (i.e. cattle, sheep and goats) for the use of weak household members; and if a woman comes to you crying on account of a particular animal, then leave it behind for her.
The publication also described traditional Somali practice as follows:
[A]nimals such as cattle, sheep and goats, donkeys, mules and even burden camels (i.e. those used for transportation), were exempted from looting, since they formed the basic means of subsistence for the weak members of society such as women and children who did not take part in fighting. This was a measure designed to safeguard the general interest of society. In the same way, public utilities and resources which benefited all and belonged to no one in particular were not destroyed during conflict. For example, the setting of fire to bushes or grassy plains, thus destroying the grazing that supports the herds of livestock and the filling up or poisoning of water wells were strongly disapproved of and rarely done, if at all, since the damage resulting therefrom would affect everyone.
The burning of crops and the destruction of fruit trees were also unacceptable. Likewise, it was forbidden to randomly kill livestock and to slaughter female animals in general and pregnant ones in particular, unless compelled to do so by absolute necessity.
Such restrictions were based on the traditional view that fighting should be confined to men and that society and the resources essential to its sustenance should be preserved and protected.
In 2011, in its comments on the concluding observations of the Human Rights Council concerning Somalia’s report, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia referred to “Spared from the Spear” as its “own Geneva Conventions”:
In times of hostilities, the Biri-Ma-Geydo
(Spared from the Spear), i.e. Somalia’s own “Geneva Conventions”[,] which existed long before the adoption of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, mitigated and regulated the conduct of clan hostilities and the treatment of immune groups.