What Is a Civilian?

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A civilian is a person who does not belong to the military or serve in any armed force. Civilians do not work for the government but can be employed by a company or organization. Civilians have many advantages including good pay and benefits, such as health insurance and retirement. Civilians may also enjoy a different lifestyle than soldiers, with less stress and a more family-friendly schedule. Civilians may also be able to travel, which can be beneficial for their personal and professional growth.

A civilian may be employed by a business, government agency or nonprofit organization, such as a charity or educational institution. They may earn a salary based on their job title and responsibilities and are subject to the same laws as other employees in the private sector. In contrast, a soldier must abide by military rules and regulations while deployed overseas, which may limit their freedom of speech or movement.

In addition to earning a salary, a civilian may also receive health and dental coverage from their employer. Some employers may even offer life insurance policies for their employees. Civilians can choose to work full-time or part-time and often have a flexible schedule. Civilians may also have opportunities to pursue career advancement and training, which can lead to promotion or new positions.

People who are considered civilians are defined in international law and practice as persons who do not participate directly in hostilities. In a conflict between States, civils are protected by the customary laws of war and international humanitarian law. However, when a State is not in a position to protect its civilians, it must respect the principles of the Geneva Conventions.

For non-State armed groups, it is often difficult to determine who are civilians. The rules of customary law do not provide a clear definition, and the laws of war do not always apply to non-State armed groups. It is therefore necessary for States to clarify their positions in order to protect the civilian population and the principle of distinction.

While a civilian may not have the same privileges as soldiers, they must still abide by the rules of international law and respect the principles of the Geneva Conventions. In a conflict between a State and a non-State armed group, a civilian can be attacked only when they have participated directly in hostilities.

ICTY Pre-Trial Brief in the Case against Tadic, Prosecutor, 1996, at page 4.

Unlike soldiers, civilians do not get paid for every hour they work. This means that it is important for civilians to find employment that is consistent with their abilities and interests, and which provides stability. It is also important for civilians to have a strong network of support, especially during times of unemployment or re-entry into the workforce. This includes transition counselors and civilian career mentors, if possible. The latter can help with job-search strategies and interview coaching, as well as providing valuable networking contacts and career guidance. A good place to start looking for civilian jobs is through COOL programs and online databases.