The legal situation of "unlawful/unprivileged combatants"

31-03-2003 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 849, by Knut Dörmann

Given that people unlawfully taking part in hostilities are not entitled to protection under the Third Geneva Convention relative to prisoners of war, the author focuses on the controversially debated question of whether "unlawful combatants" fall into the personal scope of application of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.


Knut Dörmann is a Legal Advisor at the Legal Division of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The article reflects the views of the author alone and not necessarily those of the ICRC. 
In this article the author examines the legal protections of " unlawful combatants " under international humanitarian law – a subject which has become again of great interest as a consequence of the armed conflict between the U.S. led coalition and Afghanistan in the aft ermath of the events of September 11. Since the term “unlawful combatants " is not a term, which may be found in treaties of international humanitarian law, questions relating to the status and protections of such persons consistently arise.” The term is generally understood as encompassing all persons taking a direct part in hostilities without being entitled to do so and who upon falling into the power of the enemy are not entitled to prisoners of war status. Given that " unlawful combatants " are thus not protected by the third Geneva Convention of 1949, the author focuses specifically on the controversially debated question of whether " unlawful combatants " fall into the personal scope of application of the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. Based on this assessment he develops the specific protections applicable to " unlawful combatants " .  
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