Practice Relating to Rule 1. The Principle of Distinction between Civilians and Combatants
Section C. Attacks against civilians
Colombia’s Circular on Fundamental Rules of IHL (1992) states: “Neither the civilian population as such nor individual civilians may be made the object of attack.”
Colombia’s Basic Military Manual (1995) provides: “The civilian population is not a military objective.”
Colombia’s Penal Code (2000) imposes a criminal sanction on “anyone who, during an armed conflict, carries out or orders the carrying out of … attacks against the civilian population”.
Colombia’s Directive No. 10 (2007), whose objective is to prevent the killing of protected persons, states: “Attacks against civilians do not provide any military advantage.”
In 2007, in Constitutional Case No. C-291/07
, the Plenary Chamber of Colombia’s Constitutional Court stated that the prohibition of attacks against civilians 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 further 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 of direct attacks against the civilian population.
The Court also held:
Prohibited attacks are those where the primary objective is the civilian population. In order to determine whether an attack has been directed against the civilian population, international case law has taken into account factors such as: the means and methods employed for the attack, the number and status of the victims, the nature of the crimes committed during the attack, the resistence encountered, and the extent to which the attacking force complied or attempted to comply with the precautionary principle under international humanitarian law. It is not required that the attack be directed toward the civilian population as a whole in the geographic location where the events occur. But it must be proven that the attack was not directed against a limited number of individuals.
[footnotes in original omitted]
The Court further stated that “attacks directed against the civilian population can constitute war crimes under treaty and customary international humanitarian law applicable in internal armed conflicts.”
The Court also held:
The prohibition of indiscriminate attacks … is directly related to the prohibition of direct attacks against the civilian population, so much so that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has classified the commission of attacks using indiscriminate means as attacks directed against civilians.
[footnote in original omitted]
On the basis of an opinion of the First Deputy Attorney-General in a case before the Council of State in 1994, the Report on the Practice of Colombia defines direct attacks against civilians as any operation that corresponds to one of the following three situations: a) it does not follow plans and strategies that respect the law of nations; b) the necessary staff and resources to save the lives of the victims are lacking; c) the attacks do not cease once the adverse party has been neutralized.