Detainees constitute an especially vulnerable group because they no longer have control over their own lives. Detainees find themselves almost completely at the mercy of the detaining authorities. Detainees are persons who have been deprived of their liberty, generally through some judicial or administrative process. They include for example prisoners of war, persons kept for security reasons or criminal behavior, and certain categories of migrants.  Under IHL, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) holds a specific mandate to visit detainees, to ensure that their dignity and their rights under international law are being respected.

Prison fence against white background

Photo: Greg Simenoff

Key actors

Aims to ensure the humane treatment of detainees and respect for their dignity, and has the mandate to visit prisoners of war and civilian internees

Advocate and campaigner for the rights of detainees under human rights law

Hosts the Detention Focus database on prisons and human rights standards for prison monitors

Global network of over 400 civil society organizations and individuals that advocate for, research, and provide direct services to refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants affected by immigration detention

Key references

Outline of the basic concepts and rules related to detention in both international and non-international armed conflict with a particular focus on internment, i.e. detention for security reasons in situations of armed conflict

On the vulnerabilities of women, children, persons with disabilities, LGBTI-persons, migrants, and elderly persons in detention, including related internal and external resources, blogs, and reports

Specialized resources

Edition of the International Review of the Red Cross focusing on detention practices and policies, current trends in incarceration, and challenges related to maintaining human dignity in detention, including overcrowding and aging prison populations

Organizational perspectives

On the ICRC mandate to visit detainees, the conditions and procedures, objectives, and the importance of a favorable environment and regulatory mechanisms

Learning resources

Briefing and discussion on the law applicable to detention, with a focus on the situation in non-international armed conflict

Crosscutting themes


Publication on the specific vulnerabilities and needs of children in detention, and children with family members in detention

Latest discussions