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Summary: Classification of Combatants Under Humanitarian Law
Once we have identified the concept of an (international) armed conflict, we can then turn to the vexed question of the rules that govern the classification of combatants—that is the process which determines which combatants are privileged or unprivileged as a matter of international humanitarian law. The need for this purpose is rooted in the notion of prisoner-of-war status. We shall come to terms with the considerable energies that the law has spent on developing the rules for classification (principally the Hague Regulations annexed to the 1907 Hague Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and the 1949 Geneva Convention (III) Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) and on their revision (1977 First Additional Protocol). We will compare these rules against one armed conflict in which the issue arose, namely the armed conflict in Afghanistan.
Note that the notion of combatant does not exist in the law of non-international armed conflict (although, recently, the terminology of ‘fighter’ has been used to describe the same sort of person). This is important as combatant immunity and prisoner of war status does not exist in the law of non-international armed conflict.
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