Learning from Conflict Seminar Series: The History of the Civilian in International Law



26 July 2023

6:00 PM - 9:00 PM



Today, the protection of civilians is the cornerstone of international humanitarian law. The distinction between civilian and combatant and the protection of civilians are often regarded as timeless and universal principles, acknowledged across cultures and epochs - even if that acknowledgement has not always led to practical or legal protection. Yet, as this paper will show, the contemporary understanding of the non-combatant as a protected civilian is a relatively new legal concept.

This paper will look at the specific conditions in which the concept of the civilian was first introduced into international law in the 1923 Hague Draft Rules of Aerial Warfare, was finally defined in the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, and achieved its current pre-eminence at the turn of the twenty-first century.


Amanda Alexander is a Senior Lecturer and Deputy Head of School at the Thomas More Law School, Australian Catholic University. Her research deals with the history of international humanitarian law and the laws of armed conflict. Her publications include "A Short History of International Humanitarian Law," published in the European Journal of International Law, and "The 'Good War': Preparations for a War Against Civilians," published in Law, Culture and the Humanities.

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