Rule 126. Civilian internees and persons deprived of their liberty in connection with a non-international armed conflict must be allowed to receive visitors, especially near relatives, to the degree practicable.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law. This rule does not address visits by ICRC delegates (see Rule 124), visits by counsel as part of fair trial guarantees (see Rule 100) and visits by religious personnel as part of access to spiritual assistance (see commentary to Rule 127).
The right of civilian internees held in connection with an international armed conflict “to receive visitors, especially near relatives, at regular intervals and as frequently as possible” is recognized in the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Under the Convention, derogation from this provision is possible.
A number of military manuals specify the right of civilian internees to receive visitors, especially near relatives.
Practice with respect to non-international armed conflicts shows that persons deprived of their liberty must be allowed to receive visits from family members to the degree practicable. This practice consists of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides that every child deprived of liberty “shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through … visits, save in exceptional circumstances”.
The Joint Circular on Adherence to International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights of the Philippines and the legislation of some States, for example, Rwanda’s Prison Order, provide for the right of persons deprived of their liberty to receive visitors.
In a resolution adopted in 1999, the UN General Assembly demanded that Yugoslavia respect the requirement to allow detainees to receive family visits in the context of the conflict in Kosovo.
In the Greek case
in 1969, the European Court of Human Rights condemned the severe limitations on family visits to detainees.
In 1993, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommended that Peru allow relatives to visit prisoners belonging to the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.
Allowing family visits is required under a number of instruments pertaining also to non-international armed conflicts.
The Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment provides that the right of detainees to receive visitors is “subject to reasonable conditions and restrictions as specified by law or lawful regulations”.
The ICRC facilitates visits by families of detainees in both international and non-international armed conflicts. In 2002, for example, the ICRC facilitated the visits of a total of 52,268 family members to 4,654 detainees held in connection with various armed conflicts, most of them of a non-international character (e.g., in Colombia, Georgia, Kosovo and Sri Lanka). The governments concerned generally accepted the principle that such visits should be able to occur where practicable. However, efforts by the ICRC to facilitate family visits are sometimes obstructed by military operations which endanger the safety and dignity of family members.
To the extent that visits by family members are supported by the requirement to respect family life (see Rule 105), such visits would also be required in non-international armed conflicts.
No official contrary practice was found with respect to either international or non-international armed conflicts.