Detention – by states and non-state armed groups (NSAGs) – is a reality in armed conflict. In 2021, the ICRC estimated that over 145 armed groups were holding detainees. Detention puts people in a vulnerable situation: their lives and dignity depend on the detaining authority. This vulnerability can be aggravated by various factors, such as the resources available to the detaining authority, the context in which a person is held and the reasons for the detention. Experience shows that detention by NSAGs often presents legal and practical challenges, ranging from a lack of knowledge of international rules and standards on detainee protection, in particular those found in international humanitarian law, to practical challenges such as how to ensure humane conditions of detention in the dire realities of armed conflict, or how to provide essential judicial guarantees for persons facing criminal charges.
This study presents research conducted by the ICRC on the law and practice relating to detention by NSAGs. It restates the legal framework for the protection of detainees in non-international armed conflict and presents examples of how NSAGs have implemented their obligations. It also presents a limited number of ICRC recommendations on the protection of detainees.