Practice Relating to Rule 134. Women
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:
4. The weak and vulnerable members of the enemy such as women … should be left unharmed.
The publication also described traditional Somali practice as follows:
In order to ensure that the values of honour and nobility were maintained at all times, traditional Somali society evolved a strict code of conduct that clearly defined the categories of people and things that were not to be abused in any way during a war. This convention of war, acknowledged and respected by almost all Somali pastoral nomads, is commonly known as xeerka biri-ma-geydada, or the “spared from the spear” code.
The traditional Biri-ma-geydo code covered certain categories of people who, far from being killed or harmed, were supposed to be cared for and assisted at all times. Adherence to this code was specially enjoined during hostilities. Among the types of persons afforded protection by this code were … women …
Women … belonged to the category of weak and vulnerable persons whose harming and abuse was generally regarded with strong disapproval. Any man who allowed himself to come down to the lowly level of using force against women … was rightly regarded as a coward who could not face the men in battle and was, instead, taking out his anger on the weak and helpless. Looking at this matter from another angle, women … were believed to constitute the “farms” … that ensured the survival and continuity of society; and killing them was viewed as being tantamount to “cutting down the tree at its base”, leading society down the road to annihilation and extinction.
The publication further described traditional Somali practice as follows:
[W]omen were accorded a neutral status during hostilities, war being regarded to be strictly a men’s game. Even in the rare event that a woman joined the fighting on the side of one of the warring groups, and then fell into captivity, she should not have been harmed, but treated respectfully and later returned safely to her own kin.
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.