The Encyclopedia is a project of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights launched on 2 December 2013. The Enyclopedia aims to provide accurate, up-to-date information on weapons, the effects of their use, and their regulation under public international law, in a format that is accessible to non-specialists.+ Find out more
According to a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of 8 July 2011, on 13 December 1998 the Colombian Air Force allegedly bombed the hamlet of Santo Domingo in the department (province) of Arauca, Colombia. A helicopter dropped an AN-M1A2 cluster munition containing six submunitions, killing 17 civilians, including four boys and two girls, and injuring 27 civilians (including five girls and four boys), and causing displacement of the village's inhabitants. Colombia sought to attribute the deaths to a bomb placed by FARC guerrillas.
The Court rejected Colombia’s claims.Case No. 12.416. It found that, among other things, Colombia had violated the right to life of those killed by the bombing (Article 4 of the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights) as well as the right to physical, mental, and moral integrity of those injured by the bombing (Article 5(1) of the Convention).
In determining that the events took place in the context of an armed conflict, the Court conducted its analysis in part on the basis of the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) governing the conduct of hostilities. The Court addressed the rules of proportionality and of distinction, but its analysis focused on the obligation to take precautionary measures. The Court highlighted a range of factors about the cluster munition that was used, including the wide impact area of its six submunitions. It called the cluster munition an imprecise weapon (‘una arma imprecisa’) and considered that the use of any air-dropped explosive weapon (‘armamento explosivo’) was dangerous, and therefore needed to be strictly controlled to ensure that damage would only be caused to the selected target. The Court found that the instructions given for the weapon’s employment were imprecise, especially with respect to the minimum distance of the strike location to the village, and noted that military manuals in use in December 1998 indicated that this type of weapon should not be used in or near a populated area. In view of the weapon’s lethality and its limited accuracy (‘capacidad letal y la precisión limitada’) the Court concluded that the use of the cluster munition in or near the village of Santo Domingo violated the attacker’s precautionary obligations under IHL, and consequently, amounted to a violation, by Colombia, of the rights to life and to physical, mental, and moral integrity under the American Convention.IACtHR, Caso Masacre de Santo Domingo v. Colombia, Judgment, Ser. C, No. 259, 30 November 2012, §§210–30 (in Spanish).
Last updated on: 01 December 2013