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A combatant is a soldier or guerrilla member who is waging war. Under the Geneva Conventions, a person waging war must have the following four characteristics to be protected by the laws of war:

  1. In uniform; wearing distinctive clothing making them recognizable as soldiers from a distance.
  2. Openly bearing arms; carrying guns or small arms and not concealing them.
  3. Under officers; obedient to a chain of command ending in a political leader or government.
  4. Fighting according to the laws of war; not committing atrocities or crimes, not deliberately attacking civilians or engaging in terrorism.

A combatant who has surrendered becomes a prisoner of war.

A captured person not wearing a uniform who is caught carrying weapons or engaging in warlike acts (such as a spy) is not a combatant and is therefore not protected by the laws of war. Such persons should be treated according to applicable civilian laws (if any). In practice they may be tortured or executed.

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