A civilian is a person who does not belong to the military, police or other emergency services. In the context of armed conflict this includes people living in areas of hostilities as well as those who are not participating directly in military operations but may be at risk because they are civilians or because they are members of organized resistance movements. International humanitarian law has only recently accorded specific protection to civilians, with special guarantees for the most vulnerable groups of persons, in particular women, children, the elderly and sick.
Civilians are an important part of the fabric of a society, as they are essential for its functioning and to the delivery of its services. The United Nations and other global institutions have developed policies and practical skills to protect civilians from the risks and effects of armed conflict, including the destruction of their homes and infrastructure, displacement, loss of livelihoods and access to education and health care.
In the United States, the civilian workforce is essential to supporting the Department of Defense and its missions worldwide. Civilian employees bring a broad range of experience to the DOD, and their careers span a variety of fields. Many come from fields that prepare them for public service—careers in the social sciences, law and management. This range of backgrounds helps ensure that the civilian workforce understands how societies and their public institutions should be structured and resourced to best serve the nation.
As a matter of policy, the DOD aims to provide a high-quality civilian workforce that is culturally diverse and reflective of the nation we serve. DOD also strives to support civilian veterans and their families in a way that promotes their professional development and helps them transition successfully to the next phase of their lives.
Getting back into the civilian world can be a tough transition for those who have been away from friends and family for a long period of time. It can also be a challenge to adjust to the different communication styles that come with civilian life. It is important to be patient and work through these differences, as it will help to cut down on frustration.
In the US, DOD is committed to the principle of transparency in reporting on civilian casualties resulting from military operations. It is important to recognize that while civilians are not combatants, they can be affected by the conduct of armed conflict, and as such deserve a full accounting of the consequences of their participation in war. The United States should mandate monthly, publicly releasable estimates of civilian casualties resulting from military operations, as well as damage to civilian infrastructure. This would help to bolster the confidence of civilians in the ability of governments to conduct military operations with due regard for the protection of civilians. This is a critical step toward achieving the goal of the UN Secretary-General’s plan to end impunity for war crimes. This would also be a good step toward building a culture of accountability in the international community.