Practice Relating to Rule 5. Definition of Civilians
Colombia’s Instructors’ Manual (1999) defines the term civilian as “any person who does not belong to the Armed Forces and who does not participate in a levée en masse
The manual adds: “Civilians must be understood as those who do not participate directly in military hostilities (internal conflict, international conflict).”
Colombia’s Operational Law Manual (2009) states:
Civilians are those “persons who meet the two conditions: (i) not being members of the armed forces or of irregular armed organizations engaged in the fighting and (ii) not taking part in the hostilities”. This definition of the Constitutional Court corresponds to the doctrine of the ICRC:
“For the purposes of the principle of distinction in a non-international armed conflict, all persons who are not members of State armed forces or organized armed groups of a party to the conflict are civilians … . In non-international armed conflicts, organized armed groups constitute the armed forces of a non-State party to the conflict and consist only of those individuals whose continuous function it is to take a direct part in hostilities (‘continuous combat function’).
[footnotes in original omitted]
In 2007, in the Constitutional Case No. C-291/07, the Plenary Chamber of Colombia’s Constitutional Court stated:
For the purpose of the principle of distinction and its application to internal armed conflicts, the term “civilian” refers to persons fulfilling the following two conditions: (i) they are not members of the armed forces or irregular armed organizations involved in an armed conflict; and (ii) they do not take part in hostilities individually as “civilians” or “individual civilians” or collectively as “civilian population”. The definition of “civilians” or “civilian population” is similar throughout international humanitarian law applicable in internal armed conflicts. For example, the same definition of “civilian” has been used in case law to refer to certain conduct such as a war crime or a crime against humanity.
… [D]etermining the civilian status of a person or a population shall depend on an analysis of the specific facts based on which such status is invoked rather than on a mere classification in the abstract, taking into account ... that the notion of “hostilities”, like the term “armed conflict”, goes beyond the specific time and place where actual fighting occurs and must be applied in accordance with the criteria of space and time delimited by international humanitarian law.
[footnote in original omitted]
In 2009, in the Palacios Copete and others case, Colombia’s First Criminal Court of Rionegro Circuit stated:
It is well known that there is an armed conflict in the Colombian territory – although sometimes the conflict exceeds the Colombian borders – between the State, which tries to preserve the constitutional principles and purposes, and a number of insurgent groups outside the law, which have tried to destabilize the basic institutions of our State and society by means of violent acts and with the support of drug trafficking and weapons. …
The victim of the crime of murder of a protected person must be protected pursuant to the international humanitarian law instruments ratified by Colombia
. In the present case, this would be a person who is not a combatant, who does not take part in the conflict, and thus is [part of the] civilian population.
[emphasis in original]
In 2010, in the Ramirez Vivas and others case
, which concerned the murder of a civilian by Colombian soldiers, Colombia’s Second Criminal Court of the Specialized Circuit of Popayán stated: “A civilian, for the application of the principle of distinction in internal armed conflicts, is a person who is not a member of the armed forces nor of the opposition irregular armed groups, and who does not take an active part in the hostilities.”