A civilian is a person who is not a member of an armed force. They are not considered combatants, even if they are openly carrying arms. They are not allowed to take part in battles and must respect the laws of war. There are different types of civilians, some of which may be considered combatants, while others may not be.
The Additional Protocols of 1977 address the issue of the status of civilians in both international and non-international armed conflict. The protocol provides that civilians are entitled to protection under international humanitarian law. They must not be subjected to harm or be killed by the armed forces, nor should they be subjected to torture or ill-treatment.
A civilian’s background and experiences bring unique value to national security policymaking. People with a civilian background know how to balance diverse interests, manage personal relationships, and understand social power. Whether one is a police officer, lawyer, or politician, civilians have valuable skills that can benefit the country. This makes them valuable to any decision related to national security policy.
While State armed forces are not considered civilians, the status of armed opposition groups is unclear. In Colombia, for example, the military manual defines civilians as those who do not engage in hostilities. However, most military manuals define civilians in a negative light compared to combatants, and they also do not address the status of armed opposition groups.
A civilian is defined as a person who does not belong to any of the categories in Article 4A of the Third Convention or Article 43 of Protocol I. It is also defined in the Commentary of the Protocol that anyone who is not a member of the armed forces is a civilian. As a result, civilians are given protection under the Geneva Conventions.
In the United States, the civilian population includes a broad range of individuals and institutions. A subset of this population is responsible for implementing military policies. These civilians are not necessarily members of a formal profession, but they must have extensive experience in defense and domestic politics. They usually come from business or legal backgrounds. And while their roles may not be as formal as a military officer, their expertise is important to the legitimate policymaking process.
The distinction between a civilian and a combatant is important to international humanitarian law. This distinction is important because it protects civilians from the harm caused by military operations. But in reality, civilian participation in hostilities does not result in combatant status. This hybrid status is a very dangerous place for civilians. Therefore, international humanitarian law seeks to limit the duration of this situation.
The Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions also contain specific guarantees for civilians who are not involved in hostilities. The Additional Protocols aim to enhance the protection of civilians who are not participating in hostilities and complement the traditional principle of distinguishing combatants from civilians.