Civilian

Civilian

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A civilian under international humanitarian law
International humanitarian law
International humanitarian law , often referred to as the laws of war, the laws and customs of war or the law of armed conflict, is the legal corpus that comprises "the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions, as well as subsequent treaties, case law, and customary international law." It...

 (also known as the laws of war
Laws of war
The law of war is a body of law concerning acceptable justifications to engage in war and the limits to acceptable wartime conduct...

) is a person who is not a member of his or her country
Country
A country is a region legally identified as a distinct entity in political geography. A country may be an independent sovereign state or one that is occupied by another state, as a non-sovereign or formerly sovereign political division, or a geographic region associated with a previously...

's armed forces
Armed forces
The armed forces of a country are its government-sponsored defense, fighting forces, and organizations. They exist to further the foreign and domestic policies of their governing body, and to defend that body and the nation it represents from external aggressors. In some countries paramilitary...

 or other militia
Militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

. Civilians are distinct from combatants. They are afforded a degree of legal protection from the effects of war and military occupation. The term "civilian" is also often used metaphorically to refer to people who are not members of a particular profession or occupation, especially by civilian law enforcement agencies
Law enforcement agency
In North American English, a law enforcement agency is a government agency responsible for the enforcement of the laws.Outside North America, such organizations are called police services. In North America, some of these services are called police while others have other names In North American...

, which often adopt rank structures emulating those of military units.

Etymology


The word "civilian" goes back to the late 14th Century and is from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 civilien, "of the civil law". It was used to refer to judges, lawyers, firemen, police, and other civil servants. Civilian is believed to have been used to refer to non-combatants as early as 1829.

Legal usage


The International Committee of the Red Cross
International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Committee of the Red Cross is a private humanitarian institution based in Geneva, Switzerland. States parties to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005, have given the ICRC a mandate to protect the victims of international and...

 1958 Commentary on 1949 Geneva Convention IV Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War states: "Every person in enemy hands must have some status under international law: he is either a prisoner of war and, as such, covered by the Third Convention, a civilian covered by the Fourth Convention, or again, a member of the medical personnel of the armed forces who is covered by the First Convention. There is no intermediate status; nobody in enemy hands can be outside the law. We feel that this is a satisfactory solution – not only satisfying to the mind, but also, and above all, satisfactory from the humanitarian point of view." The ICRC has expressed the opinion that "If civilians directly engage in hostilities, they are considered 'unlawful' or 'unprivileged' combatants or belligerents (the treaties of humanitarian law do not expressly contain these terms). They may be prosecuted under the domestic law of the detaining state for such action".

In 1977 Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions
Protocol I
Protocol I is a 1977 amendment protocol to the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts. It reaffirms the international laws of the original Geneva Conventions of 1949, but adds clarifications and new provisions to accommodate developments in modern...

, Chapter II, Article 50 "Definition of civilians and civilian population" indicates that a civilian is not a legal combatant
Combatant
A combatant is someone who takes a direct part in the hostilities of an armed conflict. If a combatant follows the law of war, then they are considered a privileged combatant, and upon capture they qualify as a prisoner of war under the Third Geneva Convention...

. It also states: "In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered to be a civilian." Article 51 describes the protection that must be given to the civilian population and individual civilians. Chapter III of Protocol I regulates the targeting of civilian objects. Article 8(2)(b)(i) of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court . It was adopted at a diplomatic conference in Rome on 17 July 1998 and it entered into force on 1 July 2002. As of 13 October 2011, 119 states are party to the statute...

 also includes this in its list of war crimes: "Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking part in hostilities". Not all states have ratified 1977 Protocol I or the 1998 Rome Statute, but it is an accepted principle of international humanitarian law that the direct targeting of civilians is a breach of the customary laws of war and is binding on all belligerents.

Civilians in modern conflicts


The actual position of the civilian in modern war remains problematical. It is complicated by a number of phenomena, including:
  • the fact that many modern wars are essentially civil wars
    Civil war
    A civil war is a war between organized groups within the same nation state or republic, or, less commonly, between two countries created from a formerly-united nation state....

    , in which the application of the laws of war is often difficult, and in which the distinction between soldier and civilian is particularly hard to maintain;
  • guerrilla warfare and terrorism, both of which tend to involve combatants assuming the appearance of civilians;
  • the growth of doctrines of "effects-based war", under which there is less focus on attacking an adversary's troops than on undermining the adversary regime's sources of power, which may include apparently civilian objects such as electrical power stations; and
  • the use of "lawfare", a term that refers to attempts to discredit the adversary by making its forces appear to be in violation of the laws of war, for example by attacking civilians who had been deliberately used (unlawfully) as human shields.


In the 1990s and early 2000s it was often claimed that 90 per cent of the victims of modern wars were civilians. These claims, though widely believed, are not supported by detailed examination of the evidence relating to some of the wars (including in former Yugoslavia
Yugoslav wars
The Yugoslav Wars were a series of wars, fought throughout the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995. The wars were complex: characterized by bitter ethnic conflicts among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, mostly between Serbs on the one side and Croats and Bosniaks on the other; but also...

) that had been central to the claims.

In the opening years of the twenty-first century, despite the many problems associated with it, the legal category of the civilian has been the subject of considerable attention in public discourse, in the media and at the United Nations, and in justification of certain uses of armed force to protect endangered populations. It has "lost none of its political, legal and moral salience."

Although it is often assumed that civilians are essentially passive onlookers of war, sometimes they have active roles in conflicts. These may be quasi-military, as when in November 1975 the Moroccan government organized the "green march" of citizens to cross the border into the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara to claim the territory for Morocco - all at the same time as Moroccan forces entered the territory clandestinely. In addition, and without necessarily calling into question their status as non-combatants, civilians sometimes take part in campaigns of nonviolent civil resistance
Civil resistance
The term civil resistance, alongside the term nonviolent resistance, is used to describe political action that relies on the use of non-violent methods by civil groups to challenge a particular power, force, policy or regime. Civil resistance operates through appeals to the adversary, pressure and...

 as a means of opposing dictatorial rule or foreign occupation: sometimes such campaigns happen at the same time as armed conflicts or guerrilla insurrections, but they are usually distinct from them as regards both their organisation and participation.

Under international maritime law and aviation law
Aviation law
Aviation law is the branch of law that concerns flight, air travel, and associated legal and business concerns. Some of its area of concern overlaps that of admiralty law and in many cases, aviation law is considered a matter of international law due to the nature of air travel. However, the...

 a distinction is made between crew
Crew
A crew is a body or a class of people who work at a common activity, generally in a structured or hierarchical organization. A location in which a crew works is called a crewyard or a workyard...

 and passengers that is similar to that of combatants and civilians under the laws of war
Laws of war
The law of war is a body of law concerning acceptable justifications to engage in war and the limits to acceptable wartime conduct...

. Under their own municipal law
Municipal law
Municipal law is the national, domestic, or internal law of a sovereign state defined in opposition to international law. Municipal law includes not only law at the national level, but law at the state, provincial, territorial, regional or local levels...

 governments may extend the definition of who is a civilian to exclude those who work for the emergency service
Emergency service
Emergency services are organizations which ensure public safety and health by addressing different emergencies. Some agencies exist solely for addressing certain types of emergencies whilst others deal with ad hoc emergencies as part of their normal responsibilities...

s, because members of the emergency services may from time to time need additional legal powers over and above those usually available to ordinary citizens.

Officials directly involved in the maiming of civilians are conducting offensive military operations and do not qualify as civilians.

See also


  • Civil resistance
    Civil resistance
    The term civil resistance, alongside the term nonviolent resistance, is used to describe political action that relies on the use of non-violent methods by civil groups to challenge a particular power, force, policy or regime. Civil resistance operates through appeals to the adversary, pressure and...

  • Civil war
    Civil war
    A civil war is a war between organized groups within the same nation state or republic, or, less commonly, between two countries created from a formerly-united nation state....

  • Geneva Convention
  • Guerrilla warfare
    Guerrilla warfare
    Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare and refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility to harass a larger and...

  • International Committee of the Red Cross
    International Committee of the Red Cross
    The International Committee of the Red Cross is a private humanitarian institution based in Geneva, Switzerland. States parties to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005, have given the ICRC a mandate to protect the victims of international and...

  • Law of land warfare
  • Laws of war
    Laws of war
    The law of war is a body of law concerning acceptable justifications to engage in war and the limits to acceptable wartime conduct...

  • Unlawful combatant
    Unlawful combatant
    An unlawful combatant or unprivileged combatant/belligerent is a civilian who directly engages in armed conflict in violation of the laws of war. An unlawful combatant may be detained or prosecuted under the domestic law of the detaining state for such action.The Geneva Conventions apply in wars...


Further reading

  • Helen M. Kinsella. The Image Before the Weapon: A Critical History of the Distinction Between Combatant and Civilian (Cornell University Press; 2011) 264 pages; explores ambiguities and inconsistencies in the principle since its earliest formulation; discusses how the world wars and the Algerian war of independence shaped the issue.

External links