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Civilian internee (CI)

Definition A Civilian Internee (CI) refers to a person who is detained or confined by a party during an armed conflict, military occupation, or other armed hostilities, primarily for their own safety, due to security reasons or for intelligence purposes. These individuals are not combatants but may have valuable information or pose risks if left […]


A Civilian Internee (CI) refers to a person who is detained or confined by a party during an armed conflict, military occupation, or other armed hostilities, primarily for their own safety, due to security reasons or for intelligence purposes. These individuals are not combatants but may have valuable information or pose risks if left free. The treatment, rights, and protection of Civilian Internees are governed by the provisions established under the Geneva Conventions.

Key Takeaways

  1. A Civilian Internee (CI) is a term used to describe a noncombatant person who, during an armed conflict or military occupation, is detained by an armed force for reasons of security.
  2. CIs are entitled to protection under international humanitarian law, such as the Geneva Conventions, which outline standards for humane treatment, fair trial, and release as soon as the security reasons for their detention no longer exist.
  3. Military forces have a duty to refrain from harming or using excessive force towards civilian internees; mistreating or violating the human rights of such individuals can result in sanctions or legal actions against the responsible military personnel.


The military operations term “Civilian Internee (CI)” is important because it refers to civilians who are detained by warring parties during armed conflicts for security reasons, their own protection, or due to their affiliation with hostile forces.

This classification helps in distinguishing these individuals from prisoners of war (POWs), who are typically combatants or military personnel, and ensuring that they are treated in accordance with international humanitarian law.

Recognizing the rights and vulnerable status of civilian internees can prevent inhumane treatment, ensure their basic needs are met, and ultimately contribute to the promotion of humane and ethical conduct during armed conflicts.


The purpose of classifying individuals as Civilian Internees (CI) serves a crucial function in modern military operations, ensuring the protection and humane treatment of individuals who may find themselves in a conflict zone but are not considered combatants. In essence, they are non-combatant civilians who are taken into custody by military forces for security reasons, their own protection, or for other humanitarian purposes.

Typically, these may include people who have inadvertently entered a restricted or dangerous area, have provided aid to one of the warring parties, or have been found in areas where combat or hostile acts have taken place. This notion is rooted in international humanitarian law, which dictates that these civilians must be treated humanely and provided with the basic necessities of life, such as food, water, clothing, and medical care.

Civilian Internee status is used to ensure that civilians caught in the midst of military operations are not subjected to unlawful treatment or harm. It mandates that proper procedures are put in place for their temporary internment, including access to a fair and transparent legal process should allegations of wrongdoing arise.

Additionally, by categorizing individuals under CI status, military forces are duty-bound to uphold their obligations under international law, including the Geneva Conventions, which safeguard the rights, welfare, and dignity of these non-combatants. Ultimately, the concept of Civilian Internee serves as an essential protection mechanism for vulnerable individuals who find themselves caught in the crossfire of war, providing them with a recognized and protected status that promotes their safety, humane treatment, and eventual return to their normal lives.

Examples of Civilian internee (CI)

Japanese American Internment during World War II: Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the US government deemed Japanese Americans as potential security threats and forcibly relocated around 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast to internment camps. Most of these internees were US citizens and were detained without trial, making them civilian internees. In 1988, the US government formally apologized for this internment and provided reparations to surviving Japanese American internees.

Bosnian War (1992-1995): During the Bosnian War, multiple detention camps were established where civilians were held by the various factions involved in the conflict. For example, the Omarska camp operated by Bosnian Serb forces held predominantly Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croat civilians, subjecting them to inhumane conditions, forced labor, physical torture, and sexual violence. The international community recognized these held civilians as civilian internees following the military operations term.

Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp: The Guantanamo Bay detention camp, established in 2002 following the US invasion of Afghanistan, has held numerous individuals suspected of being involved in terrorism or being enemy combatants. While the US government designates them as “unlawful enemy combatants” rather than civilian internees, this classification remains controversial. Human rights organizations and legal experts often argue that some detainees should be considered civilian internees as they have not been provided with proper legal trials or official prisoner-of-war status.

FAQs on Civilian Internee (CI)

1. What is a Civilian Internee (CI)?

A Civilian Internee (CI) is a civilian who is interned during an armed conflict or occupation for security reasons, or for any other reason related to the conflict. They may be citizens of the occupied territory, neutral individuals, or even enemy nationals.

2. How does the status of a CI differ from that of a prisoner of war (POW)?

While both CIs and POWs are detained individuals with certain rights and protections under international law, CIs differ from POWs in that they are civilians and not members of the armed forces. POWs are entitled to certain privileges, such as being treated as prisoners and not criminals, while CIs do not necessarily enjoy the same status.

3. Under which international laws are Civilian Internees protected?

Civilian Internees are protected under various international laws, including the Geneva Conventions, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, and the Additional Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions, which provide specific protections to CI.

4. What are the basic rights and protections granted to Civilian Internees?

Generic rights and protections granted to Civilian Internees include humane treatment, access to food, water, and medical care, the right to communicate with their families, protection against violence, and the prohibition of forced labor. Additionally, they are entitled to fair treatment and due process in disciplinary and judicial proceedings.

5. When can a Civilian Internee be released?

A Civilian Internee must be released as soon as the reasons for their internment cease to exist or the situation that led to their internment has been resolved. The detaining authority must also periodically review the necessity for continued internment throughout the internee’s detention.

Related Military Operation Terms

  • Internment Camps
  • Geneva Conventions
  • Repatriation
  • Noncombatant Detainee
  • Post-Internment Compensation

Sources for More Information

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