A civilian is defined as “a person who is not a combatant, a member of the armed forces or a member of a particular definite category of persons”. The civilian designation is one of several terms used in the Geneva Conventions to describe those protected from ill treatment or harm.
This is a relatively new term, which has been equated with a variety of other meanings in different contexts. For example, the word civilian is used in reference to a non-military judge, an expert on non-military law, and an expert on a particular subject. The word originated in the early 19th century, and is now synonymous with an expert on a certain subject.
The ambiguous and possibly ineffective distinction between a civilian and a combatant is explored in The Image Before the Weapon, a work by Helen M. Kinsella. The book examines the numerous inconsistencies and ambiguities in the definition of the word. It also explores how the concept has been misconstrued and misused, and the implications of those misuses.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has a special organization that promotes the improvement of the living conditions of the civilian population. This is a particularly important organization in light of the many humanitarian crises and natural disasters around the globe. In addition, the organization provides vital public utility services. Aside from the humanitarian missions, the organization offers assistance through free passage of essential items, a safe transportation network, and medical aid.
In addition to the general norms, the Security Council is actively engaged in the protection of civilians in five key areas. For example, the council uses its powers under Chapter VI of the Convention to prevent an armed conflict, and to mandate certain measures. It also carries out humanitarian activities in occupied territories with the consent of the parties to the conflict. Depending on the nature of the conflict, civilians may receive individual relief consignments, a special health care program, or other benefits.
The Occupying Power is responsible for providing appropriate medical care and accommodation to civilians, and should facilitate the distribution of religious supplies and ministers of religion. However, the Occupying Power cannot detain or deprive protected persons of their freedom or property in a conflict zone or in a dangerous area. If the Occupying Power wishes to requisition civilian hospitals for military purposes, it should provide all necessary information to the Protecting Power. In addition, the Occupying Power should ensure that the hospitals are located near to military objectives and that their distinctive emblems are visible to the enemy air force.
The distinction between a civilian and a combatant also has implications for the protection of civilian hospitals. Specifically, the Occupying Power is not authorized to requisition medical supplies or material from civilian hospitals, unless the need arises from the onset of the conflict or the presence of a specific threat. Additionally, the Occupying Power is not required to reorganize relief societies or to restructure their personnel.