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Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
▪ For the non-combatant was not to be merely the quiet underwriter of his country's military undertakings.
▪ The holy warriors don't notice the non-combatant.
Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

also noncombatant, 1809, from non- + combatant. A word from the Napoleonic wars.


Non-combatant is a term of art in the law of war and international humanitarian law, describing civilians who are not taking a direct part in hostilities; persons—such as combat medics and military chaplains—who are members of the belligerent armed forces but are protected because of their specific duties (as currently described in Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, adopted in June 1977); combatants who are placed hors de combat; and neutral nationals (including military personnel) who are not fighting for one of the belligerents involved in an armed conflict. This particular status was first recognized under the Geneva Conventions with the First Geneva Convention of 1864.

Article 42 of Protocol I states that pilots and aircrews who are parachuting from aircraft in distress cannot be attacked regardless of what territory they are over. If pilots or aircrews land in territory controlled by the enemy, they must be given an opportunity to surrender before being attacked unless it is apparent that they are engaging in a hostile act or attempting to escape. Airborne forces who are descending by parachute from an aircraft, whether it is disabled or not, are not given the protection afforded by this Article and, therefore, may be attacked during their descent unless they are hors de combat.

Article 50 of Protocol 1 defines a civilian as a person who is not a privileged combatant. Article 51 describes the protection that must be given to civilians (unless they are unprivileged combatants) and civilian populations. Chapter III of Protocol I regulates the targeting of civilian objects. Article 8(2)(b)(i) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court also prohibits attacks directed against civilians.

While not all states have ratified Protocol I or the Rome Statute, these provisions reiterated existing customary laws of war which is binding of all belligerents in an international conflict.Customary laws of war:

Article 3 in the general section of the Geneva Conventions states that in the case of armed conflict not of an international character (occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties) that each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions to "persons taking no active part in the hostilities" (non-combatants). Such persons shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, with the following prohibitions:

(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b) taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

Usage examples of "non-combatant".

Non-combatants suffered considerable temporary and incidental molestation during warfare, there was a certain amount of raping and looting, devastation to destroy supplies, pressed labour and spy-hunting on a scale which amounted in most cases to little more than an exacerbation of normal criminality.

Thanking Leo, Tammy got the pilot to describe the military installations in the target city, showing that the Gekko guerrilla bands bleeding the settler militia were based among non-combatants.

Leo, Tammy got the pilot to describe the military installations in the target city, showing that the Gekko guerrilla bands bleeding the settler militia were based among non-combatants.

I leave to others to determine how much censure an editor deserves for inveigling a weak, non-combatant man, also a publisher, to a pen of his own to be horsewhipped, if no worse, for the simple printing of what is verbally in the mouth of nine out of ten men, and women too, upon the street.

Observe, I am not proposing to cut the enormous non-combatant tail which fills up K.

I didn't bother to list the various non-combatant auxiliary corps because, if I wasn't picked for a combat corps, I didn't care whether they used me as an experimental animal or sent me as a laborer in the Terranizing of Venus either one was a booby prize.

On Saturday, 18 September the world became aware that Christian phalangists had massacred hundreds of women and children - as well as a few male non-combatants - in the camps, and that the phalangists had been sent into the camps by the Israelis.

I have laid down certain conditions on your assignments that must be upheld no matter what the circumstances: your duties are strictly outlined in the FT&T Charter and you are definitely aboard as civilian specialists and non-combatants.

He had taken no part in the attack on non-combatants at the Stora Mine, but he was quite certain to be tried as a war criminal for his part in the poison gas attack in the Dales.

Were such wickednesses as the use of poison gas, the spreading of disease germs and the killing of non-combatants, all German precedents, to inaugurate a new era of cruelty in warfare.