Consider wars in which civilian population of an occupying country move into occupied land. For example,

  1. Russian population moving into Crimea, Mariupol or other Ukrainian territories.
  2. Israeli settlements in West Bank.

Assuming these populations are not carrying weapons and not actively engaged in combat[1], what is there status under Geneva convention or other international treaties? Is it acceptable for the forces of occupied country to target them? Can they be considered combatants/partisans for the act of occupying land/houses? What about the children among the occupying people?

[1] In practice, Israeli settlers have fired weapons, making some of them at least partisans. But let's keep that aside for the sake of this argument.

  • 1
    Please don't use comments to answer the question - if you'd like to answer, use the answer space below.
    – CDJB
    Oct 28, 2023 at 7:52
  • 1
    TBH, I'd have upvoted this Q until I got to the part where you asked if it's legal to target children under international law. (Actually sometimes it is, can you guess when?) Oct 28, 2023 at 8:58
  • 2
    You really should ask this on law.SE. After looking into the labyrinthine definitions of protected persons, "civilian persons" and "taking part in the hostilities" as covered by the Fourth Geneva Convention and their Protocols I and II, I feel uterly unqualified to answer. For a sociological view on the phenomenenon, see settler colonialism. At least one author considers it "genocide" (in a sociological, not legal, sense).
    – ccprog
    Oct 28, 2023 at 16:14

1 Answer 1


As far as I know they are still civilians, but there seems be nothing in international law that prevents them from being treated as criminal suspects--according the local law--and eventually convicted on some criminal charges like "economic activities in cooperation with the aggressor state", if they are captured, of course.

It may be a bit debatable whether such a [criminalization] policy applied on a large scale would amount to collective punishment, which is forbidden in international law. One could argue however that voluntarily moving to an occupied area to do such activities is an act of individual responsibility, so even if such an approach criminalizes potentially a large number of people (assuming mass migration), it's not technically collective punishment. It becomes much more debatable if an occupation lasts decades and someone is raised from childhood in such a settler setting if they can still be deemed to have voluntarily engaged in punishable collaboration etc.

And of course, just because a state is not prohibited by international law in criminalizing some behaviors doesn't imply it's necessarily [politically] sensible to do that, e.g. in view of a peace process involving some reconciliation with [former] enemies.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .