Targeting decisions and consequences for civilians in the Colombian civil strife
Aaron X. Fellmeth and Douglas J. Sylvester
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Minnesota journal of international law, Vol. 26, no. 2, 2017, p. 501-560
The trend in armed conflicts since 1945 has moved away from traditional international wars and toward non-international conflicts between the state and organized rebellions, criminal organizations, or terrorist cells. The difficulty of coping with an enemy that hides among civilians without causing avoidable civilian deaths and damage to civilian property has often been observed and, in practice, the number of civilian deaths in such conflicts frequently overshadows combatant deaths by a significant margin. Yet, it is a homily among international lawyers that the principle of proportionality applies in non-international as well as international conflicts under customary international law. In order to better understand the apparent contradiction of this claim with the quotidian fact of disproportionate civilian casualties, the authors studied the practice of Colombia in its decades-long civil strife against the organized armed groups Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the National Liberation Army, or ELN. This study summarizes Colombian practice in training and regulating its armed forces with respect to the specific principle of proportionality; examines several incidents of allegedly disproportionate attacks; and analyzes the Colombian government’s response to determine whether it considers itself bound to comply with the proportionality principle in its internal conflict and, if so, how the state interprets its compliance obligations with that principle.