Practice Relating to Rule 138. The Elderly, Disabled and Infirm
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 … the aged 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 … the aged.
The publication further described traditional Somali practice as follows:
When a man had grown so old that he was no longer capable of carrying weapons and taking part in a fight, he was considered to belong to the class of weak and vulnerable persons. Regardless of the intensity, duration and level of mutual enmity in any war, the killing of such a man, just like the killing of women and children, was cause for disgrace and for the further aggravation of hostilities.
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.