What Is a Civilian?

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A civilian is a person who is not a member of an armed force or an organized military group. Civilians are protected by the laws of war and are entitled to certain privileges that distinguish them from combatants. However, it is difficult to define what a civilian is exactly. The term is a broad one, and the distinction between a civilian and a fighter can be blurry at times.

Civilian life is a lot different from the military, and it takes time to adjust to civilian relationships. People are not as familiar with the etiquette of military ranks, and veterans must work hard to avoid slipping into old habits that can make them appear rude or insensitive to civilians.

There are many benefits to being a civilian, including earning more money per month than in the military and getting paid on an hourly basis. Civilian jobs also offer better job security and more vacation days. Civilians can also enjoy more freedom in their daily lives and have more flexibility with their schedules.

While there are many advantages to being a civilian, it is not without its challenges. The most obvious difference is that civilians are not commissioned officers in the military, and they must contend with the higher expectations of their peers when it comes to leadership skills, performance, and discipline. Military-related offenses such as fraud, theft of government property, sexual misconduct, drug and alcohol abuse, insubordination, desertion, and AWOL are not tolerated by civilian employers.

The challenge facing civilian authority in the midst of an armed conflict is to determine the ideal balance between control and preventing a backlash from the military world. Too much control over the military could make them too weak to defend the country, and too little control could result in a coup from within the ranks.

During a conflict, it is common for members of the armed forces or of an organized armed group to take up a civilian occupation for a limited duration of ongoing hostilities. These individuals are considered civilians and are not obligated to comply with the laws of war during that period, but they must return to their normal duties once the hostilities have concluded.

It is difficult to classify those who directly participate in hostilities as civilians, because they often have a regular full- or part-time civilian job (“farmer by day, fighter by night”). However, according to international law, they must be treated as civilians during their direct participation, and therefore must not face attack.

Civilian protection is not only a matter of protecting civilians from violence and addressing their material needs, but it is also about supporting communities to protect themselves through unarmed practices. Conflict-affected civilians and their communities are active agents in their own protection and shape the context in which external assistance is provided. The international community must ensure that the concept of civilian is properly understood and applied, and that the protection of civilians is not undermined.