Transitioning From Military to Civilian Life

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When you transition out of military life, it can be a big shift to civilian life. From finding a new job to making new friends, it’s important to be patient during this time. It’s also important to understand what your civilian counterparts expect out of you and how to communicate effectively. This will help reduce frustration and help you adjust to your civilian lifestyle.

Civilian is defined as a person who does not belong to the armed forces or any organization engaged in belligerent activities, such as the police force or a member of a non-state armed group (a militia). The term has been applied more broadly to include persons not involved in an armed conflict, including journalists, medical personnel and religious workers. The distinction between civilian and combatants is one of the core principles of international humanitarian law, which establishes that “civilians are protected from attack” (GCIV Art. 3).

The protection of civilians must be an integral part of any strategy to prevent or mitigate the impact of armed conflict on the populations affected and on the overall stability of a region or country. The latest Secretary-General’s annual report on the protection of civilians is alarming: armed conflict has resulted in over 100 million people being displaced and is a major driver of acute malnutrition and food insecurity, highlighting how fragile the situation remains around the world.

It is a key challenge to better protect civilians by improving military approaches in places like Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Recent efforts by the US and its partners have reduced harm to civilians in these situations, but more work needs to be done in this area.

While the term “civilian” is widely used in many languages, there are different definitions and opinions about what it means to be a civilian. The most common definition is that a civilian is a person who is not a member of the armed forces or any organization that engages in belligerent activities, such as the law enforcement or the police force, or a member of a non-state or non-governmental armed group.

The question of whether a particular act amounts to direct participation in hostilities, which suspends civilian immunity from attack, is central to the understanding and application of the principle of proportionality in armed conflict. The ICRC has devoted considerable effort to clarifying the concept of direct participation in hostilities, particularly in connection with the modalities that govern the loss of such immunity. This process has produced a new set of standards to guide armed conflict planners and actors, as well as military lawyers, in their interpretation of the laws of war.