The term “unlawful combatant” is used to refer to an individual who belongs to an armed group, in a context where either the individual or the group do not fulfil the conditions for combatant status. The term was employed by the administration of President George W. Bush of the United States in its ‘global war on terror’ to describe persons who are, in its view, neither combatants nor civilians but belong to a third category of persons who can be attacked at any time and can be detained indefinitely without trial. It is also sometimes used as a synonym for “unprivileged belligerent”.

See Unprivileged belligerentWar on terrorCombatantsCiviliansDetentionInternmentTerrorism and terrorists;





Suggested readings:

BELLAMY Alex J., “No Pain, No Gain? Torture and Ethics in the War on Terror”, in International Affairs, Vol. 82, No. 1, January 2006, pp. 121-146.   BOGAR Thomas, “Unlawful Combatant or Innocent Civilian? A Call to Change the Current Means for Determining Status of Prisoners in the Global War on Terror”, in Florida Journal of International Law, Vol. 21, No. 1, April 2009, pp. 29-91.   BORELLI Silvia, “Casting Light on the Legal Black Hole: International Law and Detentions Abroad in the ‘War on Terror’”, in IRRC, No. 857, March 2005, pp. 39-68.   BORELLI Silvia, “The Treatment of Terrorist Suspects Captured Abroad: Human Rights and Humanitarian Law”, in BIANCHI Andrea (ed.), Enforcing International Law Norms against Terrorism, Oxford, Hart, 2004, pp. 39-61.   BYERS Michael, “Terrorism, the Use of Force and International Law after 11 September”, in ICLQ, Vol. 51/2, 2002, pp. 401-414.   CASSESE Antonio, “Terrorism is also Disrupting Crucial Legal Categories of International Law”, in EJIL, Vol. 12-5, 2001, pp. 993-1001.   CONDORELLI Luigi & NAQVI Yasmin, “The War against Terrorism and Jus in Bello: Are the Geneva Conventions Out of Date?”, in BIANCHI Andrea (ed.), Enforcing International Law Norms against Terrorism, Oxford, Hart, 2004, pp. 25-37.   CRAWFORD Emily, The Treatment of Combatants and Insurgents under the Law of Armed Conflict, Oxford, OUP, 2010, 213 pp.   DÖRMANN Knut, “The Legal Situation of ‘Unlawful/Unprivileged Combatants’”, in IRRC, No. 849, March 2003, pp. 45-74.   DUFFY Helen, “Human Rights Litigation and the ‘War on Terror’”, in IRRC, Vol. 90, No. 871, September 2008, pp. 573-597.   FERNANDO-SANCHEZ Pablo Antonio (ed.), International Legal Dimension of Terrorism (See in particular Part IV, ‘Terrorism and Armed Conflicts”), Leiden, M. Nijhoff, 2009, 512 pp.   FINAUD Marc, “L’abus de la notion de “combattant illégal” : une atteinte au droit international humanitaire”, in RGDIP, Tome 110, No. 4, 2006, pp. 861-890.   FORSYTHE David P., “United States Policy Toward Enemy Detainees in the “War on Terrorism””, in Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2, May 2006, pp. 465-491.   GASSER Hans-Peter, “International Humanitarian Law, the Prohibition of Terrorist Acts and the Fight against Terrorism”, in YIHL, Vol. 4, 2004, pp. 329-347.   GREENWOOD Christopher, “International Law and the ‘War against Terrorism’”, in International Affairs, Vol. 78/2, 2002, pp. 301-317.   HOFFMANN Michael H., “State Practice, the Customary Law of War and Terrorism: Adapting Old Rules to Meet New Threats”, in IYHR, Vol. 34, 2004, pp. 231-249.   JACKSON Jami Melissa, “The Legality of Assassination of Independent Terrorist Leaders: an Examination of National and International Implications”, in North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation, Vol. 24/3, 1999, pp. 669-697.   KING Faiza Patel & SWAAK-GOLDMAN Olivia, “The Applicability of International Humanitarian Law to the ‘War on Terrorism’”, in Hague Yearbook of International Law, 2003, Vol. 15, 2002, pp. 39-49.   MCDONALD Neil & SULLIVAN Scott, “Rational Interpretation in Irrational Times: The Third Geneva Convention and War on Terror”, in Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 44/1, 2003, pp. 301-316.   MURPHY Sean D., “Evolving Geneva Convention Paradigms in the ‘War on Terrorism’: Applying the Core Rules to the Release of Persons Deemed ‘Unpriviliged Combatants’”, in The George Washington Law Review, Vol. 75, No. 5/6, August 2007, pp. 1105-1164   LIETZAU William, “Combating Terrorism: The Consequences of Moving from Law Enforcement to War”, in WIPPMAN David & EVANGELISTA Matthew (eds), New Wars, NewLaws? Applying the Laws of War in 21st Century Conflicts, New York, Transnational Publishers, 2005, pp. 31-51.   LINNAN David K., Enemy Combatants, Terrorism and Armed Conflict Law: a Guide to the Issues, Westport, London, Praeger Security International, 2008, 400 pp.   NEUMAN Gerald L., “Humanitarian Law and Counterterrorist Force”, in EJIL, Vol. 14/2, April 2003, pp. 283-298.   O’CONNELL Mary Ellen, “Combatants and the Combat Zone”, in University of Richmond Law Review, Vol. 43, Issue 3, March 2009, pp. 845-863.   OLSON Laura, “Guantanamo Habeas Review: Are the D.C. District Court’s Decisions Consistent with IHL Internment Standards?”, in Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 42, No. 1 & 2, 2009, pp. 197-243   PARKER Tom, “The Proportionality Principle in the War on Terror”, in Hague Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 15, 2002, pp. 3-15.   PAUST Jordan J., “War and Enemy Status After 9/11: Attacks on the Laws of War”, in The Yale Journal of International Law, Vol. 28, 2003, pp. 325-335.   PEJIC Jelena, ““Unlawful/Enemy Combatants:” Interpretations and Consequences”, in SCHMITT Michael & PEJIC Jelena (eds), International Law and Armed Conflict: Exploring the Faultlines, Essays in Honour of Yoram Dinstein, M. Nijhoff, Leiden/Boston, 2007, pp. 335-357.   PFANNER Toni, “Asymmetrical Warfare from the Perspective of Humanitarian Law and Humanitarian Action”, in IRRC, No. 857, March 2005, pp. 149-174.   PLAW Avery, Targeting Terrorists: A License to Kill?, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2008, 294 pp.   RATNER Steven R., “Predator and Prey: Seizing and Killing Suspected Terrorists Abroad”, in Journal of Political Philosophy, September 2007, Vol. 15, Issue 3, pp. 251-275.   ROBERTS Adam, “The Laws of War in the War on Terror”, in IYHR, Vol. 32, 2002, pp. 193-245.   ROBERTS Adam, “Counter-terrorism, Armed Force and the Laws of War”, in Survival, Vol. 44/1, 2002, pp. 7-32.   RONA Gabor, “An Appraisal of US Practice Relating to “Enemy Combatants””, in YIHL, Vol. 10 (2007), 2009, pp. 232-250.   RUBIN Alfred P., “Applying the Geneva Conventions: Military Commissions, Armed Conflict, and Al-Qaeda”, in The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol. 26/1, 2002, pp. 79-81.   SASSÒLI Marco, “La définition du terrorisme et le droit international humanitaire”, in Revue québécoise de droit international, Vol. 19, hors-série, 2007, pp. 29-48.   SASSÒLI Marco, “La ‘guerre contre le terrorisme’, le droit international humanitaire et le statut de prisonnier de guerre”, in CYIL, Vol. 39, 2001, pp. 211-252.   SASSÒLI Marco, “Terrorism and War”, in Journal of International Criminal Justice, Vol. 4, Issue 5, 2006, pp. 969-981.   SASSÒLI Marco, “Query: Is There a Status of “Unlawful Combatant”?”, in JACQUES Richard B. (ed.), “Issues in International Law and Military Operations”, in International Law Studies, Vol. 80, 2006, pp. 57-69.   SCHMITT Michael N., “Asymmetrical Warfare and International Humanitarian Law”, The Air Force Law Review, Vol. 62, 2008, pp. 1-42.   SPEROTTO Federico, “Targeted Killings in response to Security Threats: Warfare and Humanitarian Issues”, in Global Jurist, Vol. 8, Issue 3, 2008, pp. 1-32.   TIGROUDJA Hélène, “Quel(s) droit(s) applicable(s) à la ‘guerre au terrorisme’ ?”, in AFDI, Vol. 48, 2002, pp. 81-102.   VEUTHEY Michel, “Le droit international humanitaire face à la guerre contre le terrorisme”, in DOUCET Ghislaine (ed.), Terrorisme, victimes et responsabilité pénale internationale, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 2003, pp. 516-529.   VIERUCCI Luisa, “Prisoners of War or Protected Persons qua Unlawful Combatants? The Judicial Safeguards to which Guantánamo Bay Detainees are Entitled”, in Journal of International Criminal Justice, Vol. 1/2, 2003, pp. 284-314.   WATKIN Kenneth, “Humans in the Cross-Hairs: Targeting, Assassination and Extra-Legal Killing in Contemporary Armed Conflict”, in WIPPMAN David & EVANGELISTA Matthew (eds), New Wars, New Laws? Applying the Laws of War in 21st Century Conflicts, New York, Transnational Publishers, 2005, pp. 137-179.   WAXMAN Matthew C., “Detention as Targeting: Standards of Certainty and Detention of Suspected Terrorists”, in Columbia Law Review, 2008, Vol. 108, pp. 1365-1430   WEDGWOOD Ruth, “Responding to Terrorism: the Strikes against Bin Laden”, in The Yale Journal of International Law, Vol. 24/2, 1999, pp. 559-576.   YOO John C. & HO James C., “The Status of Terrorists”, in Virginia Journal of International Law, Vol. 44, Fall 2003, pp. 207-228.