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A civilian is a person who is not a member of a military. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention it is a war crime to deliberately attack a non-combatant civilian or wantonly and unnecessarily destroy or take the property of a civilian.

However, civilian property may be destroyed in pursuit of a military objective; civilian property may be seized for military use; and collateral damage is an accepted part of war.

In practice, the neat division between combatants and non-combatants implicit in such treaties can get very blurry, particularly in guerilla warfare where the guerillas receive the support of the local population. It is sometimes argued that the division between civilian and military and the abhorrence towards attacks on civilians is a reflection of Western attitudes to war, and that other societies do not make such distinctions but find other aspects of Western-style warfare abhorrent (such as strategic bombing).

The possible cultural perception notwithstanding, 188 states are party to the appplicable Geneva Convention (as at 31 December 1996) including such non-Western countries that have been in conflict since the 12 August 1949 date of the Convention as Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Congo, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, both Koreas, Kuwait, Laos, Rwanda, Syria and Vietnam. [1]

See also: Laws of war, Law of land warfare, combatant. illegal combatant.

In legal contexts, a civilian is also the name given to a jurist or jurisdiction of the civil law as in civilian jurisdiction.

In interactions between certain professions, especially such public service ones as police and fire protection, a civilian also describes a person not part of the profession.