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5 Persons Covered by International Humanitarian Law: Main Categories

Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne

From: The Oxford Guide to International Humanitarian Law

Edited By: Ben Saul, Dapo Akande

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved.date: 16 July 2024

Refugees — Children, rights — Combatants — Prisoners of war — Women, rights — Armed conflict — Care for the sick and wounded — Protected persons and property — Targeted killing

This chapter identifies the main categories of persons deemed to be in need of protection in situations of armed conflict, according to which the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) are structured. The two principal categories of persons under the law of international armed conflict (IAC) are combatants/prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians. This categorization lies at the heart of one of the key principles of IHL, that of the distinction between combatants (being, generally, lawful targets) and civilians (being, generally, not lawful targets). These two principal categories are then further divided, with special (additional) rules applying to certain persons falling within each sub-category—including the wounded, sick, and shipwrecked; women; children; the elderly, disabled, and infirm; refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs); mercenaries and spies; journalists; and the missing and the dead. For some of these categories of persons, such as women and displaced persons, the rules remain very basic and inadequate for the contemporary challenges faced in armed conflicts. What is more, many of these categories are even less clearly defined under the law of non-international armed conflict (NIAC).

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