Once we have determined that a particular situation of violence is an armed conflict, in order to invoke the rules applicable to particular occurrences, we must classify the persons involved. In international armed conflicts, it should be noted that when considering the situation of persons who have fallen into enemy hands, the rules that are applicable to them will depend on their status, i.e., whether they are a wounded, sick or shipwrecked, a prisoner of war, a civilian internee, or another enemy civilian. In the conduct of hostilities, it is important to determine whether an individual is a combatant or a civilian. The latter may not be subject to direct attack, unless and for such time as they directly participate in hostilities.

In non-international armed conflicts, combatant and civilian status do not exist. However, particular rules still apply to the wounded, sick, detained and those who do not take part in the fighting.

See Classification of conflictsArmed conflictInternational armed conflictNon-international armed conflictProtected personsStatus