What Is a Civilian?

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A civilian is a person who is not a member of a military or an organized armed group. It may include non-combatants, such as soldiers, police officers, or even military chaplains attached to a belligerent party. In international armed conflicts, they may take part in resistance movements or popular uprisings.

The Fourth Geneva Convention protects civilians in conflict with an adverse party. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) established a distinction between civilians taking part in hostilities and combatants. However, the ICRC has not yet made definitive legal conclusions about the consequences of the distinction.

The ICRC began a research program on the “notion of direct participation in hostilities” under IHL. The results were that the notion of “direct participation” cannot be applied to all command functions, and that there is no standard definition of the term. Instead, each situation must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

The distinction between civilians and combatants is not without controversy. It was only recently that international humanitarian law formally accorded specific protection to civilians in hostilities. Until this time, international humanitarian law only regulated the fate of prisoners of war and combatants in a conflict. This was done to prevent civilians from being harmed by military operations. Historically, the only difference between civilians and combatants was that a civilian was not a military officer.

Despite the fact that international humanitarian law lays out a system of protection for civilians in war, many scholars have argued that it is a flawed concept. For example, some experts argue that civilian review boards are not effective. Others claim that they are backward looking and do not achieve their desired goals.

There are three categories of civilian oversight entities. They can be divided into investigative, operational, and structural. Each of these entities has a different level of authority and impact. Some are well equipped to perform their functions, while others lack the resources or expertise to conduct effective investigations.

Civilian review entities can conduct a variety of functions, such as analyzing data on police misconduct, holding public hearings, and issuing subpoenas. They also serve as a point of intake for public complaints against police officers. These entities can provide information on the causes and effects of police misconduct, and can gather public input on policies and practices.

There are three key components that must be present in a civilian oversight board to ensure that its responsibilities are met. First, the members of the board must be committed to the common good, and must be knowledgeable about policing. Second, the board must be independent and have the necessary expertise to do its job. Third, there must be adequate funding to support the board’s mission. While the concept of a civilian oversight entity sounds noble, the reality is that these entities often fail to meet the expectations of their citizens.

Research into civilian oversight has concentrated on evaluating the impact of such functions, identifying and addressing operational barriers, and assessing the role of structural and organizational factors. Though this may be helpful to civilian oversight, the most important factor in ensuring the success of these organizations is the commitment of the members.