Practice Relating to Rule 42. Works and Installations Containing Dangerous Forces
Section A. Attacks against works and installations containing dangerous forces and against military objectives located in their vicinity
Colombia’s Basic Military Manual (1995) considers that “abstaining from attacks against works and installations … containing dangerous forces” is a way to protect the civilian population.
Colombia’s Operational Law Manual (2009) states:
4. Rules for the conduct of hostilities
a. Prohibition of indiscriminate attacks and [notion of] protected persons
Article 48 of the  Additional Protocol I to the  Geneva Conventions expressly enshrines the principle of distinction by establishing that “in order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives, and accordingly direct their operations only against military objectives”.
From the application of this principle derives a set of rules that on the one hand prohibit attacks against protected persons and objects and on the other hand allow the use of force against persons and objects not protected by IHL, since this principle helps to determine, for example, when a person can be a military objective.
In the case of objects, … [t]he following cannot be considered as military objectives:
(iii) Works and installations containing dangerous forces, such as dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations, among others.
[footnote in original omitted]
The manual also states
4. Rules of engagement
(i) Definitions for rules of engagement for land combat …
- Protected objects
: All civilian objects … such as those containing dangerous forces are protected as long as they have not been previously defined as military objectives.
Colombia’s Penal Code (2000), under the heading “Attacks against works and installations containing dangerous forces”, provides for the punishment of anyone “who, at the occasion and during armed conflict, without any justification based on imperative military necessity, attacks dams, dykes, electrical or nuclear power stations or other installations containing dangerous forces, which are clearly marked with the conventional signs”. The Code provides for even harsher punishment in case such attack should lead to important losses or damage.
In 2007, in the Constitutional Case No. C-291/07, the Plenary Chamber of Colombia’s Constitutional Court stated:
International humanitarian law, in its treaty and customary form applicable in internal armed conflicts, provides for special protection to certain categories of persons and property particularly vulnerable to the effects of war. The main categories of persons specially protected [include] … installations containing dangerous forces.
In 2010, in the El Iguano case, the Justice and Peace Chamber of Colombia’s High District Court of Bogotá convicted a member of the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia) of several crimes committed against the civilian population. The Court stated:
231. Destruction and appropriation of protected objects. Under international humanitarian law, the destruction of protected objects is considered a prohibited method of combat.
232. Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the  Additional Protocol II protect objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, works or installations containing dangerous forces, cultural objects and places of worship. These provisions correspond to article 8(2)(e)(xii) of the  ICC Statute, which regulates the crime of destruction and appropriation of objects.
In reaction to an article in the press, the Office of the Human Rights Adviser of the Presidency of the Colombian Republic stated:
In the example of the dam cited by the author of the article in La Prensa
, it is very clear that government troops may attack it in order to dislodge the guerrillas. However, the crux of the matter is how this should be done to ensure that the attack, which is otherwise lawful, does not cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering. Obviously, it would not occur to any sensible military officer to bomb the position with high-power explosives which would destroy the dam wall and cause a deluge that would sweep away the inhabitants of the basin of the tributary feeding the dam.