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5 Combatants and Non-Combatants

Dieter Fleck

From: The Handbook of International Humanitarian Law (4th Edition)

Edited By: Dieter Fleck

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved.date: 30 September 2023

Outer space — Combatants — Armed conflict

This chapter examines the regulation of combatant status in treaty law and the many challenges for combatant status in recent armed conflicts. The primary status under international law of persons in an international armed conflict will be one of two categories of persons: ‘combatants’ and ‘civilians’. Combatants may fight within the limits imposed by international law applicable in international armed conflict, that is, they may participate directly in hostilities, which members of medical or religious personnel and ‘non-combatants’ may not do because they are excluded—by international law and by a legal act of their party to the conflict—from the authorization to take a direct part in hostilities. The chapter then discusses ‘unlawful combatants’, or what may be considered the better term: ‘unprivileged belligerents’. The term ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ was particularly used after 11 September 2001, to introduce a third category of persons which under existing law may be either combatants or civilians, but are denied such status as not fulfilling essential conditions. To use this third category in order to reduce the individual protection below the minimum standard of human rights is under no circumstances legally acceptable.

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