Practice Relating to Rule 7. The Principle of Distinction between Civilian Objects and Military Objectives
In 2006, in the Constitutional Case No. T-165/06, the First Appeals Chamber of Colombia’s Constitutional Court stated:
[W]ith regard to the conduct of hostilities, it is important to note that IHL is ruled by fundamental principles, such as the principles of distinction, limitation and proportionality. Indeed, … the principle of distinction imposes on weapon bearers the obligation to distinguish in their military actions … between military objectives and civilian objects.
In 2007, in the Constitutional Case No. C-291/07, the Plenary Chamber of Colombia’s Constitutional Court stated:
[T]he essential principles of international humanitarian law have acquired ius cogens
status, based on the fact that the international community as a whole has recognised their peremptory and imperative nature … Among the essential principles of international humanitarian law with ius cogens
status applicable in internal armed conflicts … [is] … the principle of distinction.
The Court further held:
The principle of distinction, one of the cornerstones of international humanitarian law, flows directly from the obligation to protect the civilian population from the effects of war as in times of armed conflict it is only acceptable to weaken the enemy’s military potential.
(footnote in original omitted)
The Court also held:
The general duty to distinguish between civilians and combatants is an essential duty binding the parties to any non-international armed conflict to differentiate at all times between civilians and combatants in order to protect civilians and their property. Indeed, parties to a conflict are bound to make every effort to distinguish between military objectives and … civilian property. This rule is found in international treaties applicable in internal armed conflicts and is binding on Colombia. It forms part of customary international humanitarian law and has attained ius cogens
[footnote in original omitted]
The Court further held that a “specific sub-rule of the principle of distinction is the obligation binding parties to a conflict to take every feasible step to distinguish between military objectives and civilian objects”.
(footnote in original omitted)
Colombia’s Circular on Fundamental Rules of IHL (1992) provides: “Attacks may only be conducted against military objectives.”
Colombia’s Instructors’ Manual (1999) instructs soldiers: “Attack only military objectives.”
Colombia’s Directive No. 10 (2007), whose objective is to prevent the killing of protected persons, states: “Military objectives must be adequately identified and may be attacked.”
Colombia’s Circular on Fundamental Rules of IHL (1992) provides: “Neither the civilian population as such nor civilian objects may be subjected to attacks.”
The Report on the Practice of Colombia refers to a decision of the Council of State in 1994 which considered the guerrilla attack on the Palace of Justice as a terrorist attack directed against a civilian object.