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in the branch of international law dealing with the laws and customs of war, persons who do not participate directly in military actions or in a resistance movement. In a naval war, the crews and passengers of commercial and passenger vessels of belligerent as well as neutral states are classified as civilian population.
The general principles of the legal status of the civilian population are set forth in the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907 on the laws and customs of war on land and in the Geneva Convention of 1949 on the protection of the civilian population in wartime. The civilian population is granted immunity from military actions and has the right to be respected as to person, honor, family rights, and religious beliefs. The treatment of the civilian population must be humane and without any discrimination whatsoever. The convention also prohibits the taking of hostages, collective punishment, intimidation, and conviction and the application of punishment without a prior court decision passed under the observance of judicial guarantees. Obligations imposed on the civilian population must not be of a nature to enlist participation in the war on the side of the enemy.
Cities and settled places with a civilian population must not be targets of air or artillery bombardment.
International law establishes responsibility for violations of the rules governing the treatment of the civilian population. In the two world wars the propositions concerning the protection of the civilian population in wartime were repeatedly violated by the imperialist states, especially by fascist Germany.