What Is a Civilian?

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A civilian is a person who is not a member of the armed forces or a combatant. Although they are not considered combatants, they are required to obey the laws of war. Civilians are distinguished from non-combatants, but some civilians are non-combatants. They carry open arms but may not fight.

Civilians have a range of backgrounds and views. The distinction between them and the military is somewhat vague and can lead to confusion. In The Image Before the Weapon, Helen M. Kinsella explores the ambiguity and inconsistency of the term “citizen.” Kinsella draws on the Algerian independence war to illustrate this.

While the term civilian was first used in the early 19th century, its current meaning is relatively new. In the 19th century, civilian referred to a person who did not serve in the armed forces. It also became synonymous with someone who specialized in non-military law. The term is derived from the French word civil, which means “not a military.”

While the military serves as an authority for policymaking, civilians are an important complement to military advice. Civilians are not mere functionaries; they represent another professional group and their expertise can be crucial to legitimate policymaking. Civilians are not systematically commissioned, but they do play an important role in the legitimacy of policymaking.

Civilians who have experience in politics, social science, or the law often bring a unique perspective to national security policy. These professionals have an understanding of social power and how to balance diverse interests. They are also able to handle complex interpersonal relationships. Ultimately, civilians have a unique perspective on national security and are capable of achieving policy objectives.

As defined by the Third Geneva Convention, civilians are individuals who do not belong to the armed forces. However, they cannot be considered combatants in a conflict unless they are armed. In Colombia, civilians are defined as those who do not participate in hostilities. However, the definition of armed opposition groups is less clear.