State of emergency

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State of Emergency is also a video game by Rockstar Games and an album by The Living End.

A state of emergency is a governmental declaration that may suspend certain normal functions of government, may work to alert citizens to alter their normal behaviors, or may order government agencies to implement emergency preparedness plans. It can also be used as a rationale for suspending civil liberties. Such declarations usually come during a time of natural disaster, during periods of civil unrest, or following a declaration of war (therefore, in democratic countries many call this martial law, most with non-critical intent). Justitium is its equivalent in Roman law.

In some countries, the state of emergency and its effects on civil liberties and governmental procedure are regulated by the constitution or a law that limits the powers that may be invoked during an emergency or rights suspended. It is also frequently illegal to modify the emergency law or Constitution during the emergency.


Use and viewpoints

Though fairly uncommon in democracies, dictatorial regimes often declare a state of emergency that is prolonged indefinitely as long as the regime lasts. In some situations, martial law is also declared, allowing the military greater authority to act.

For State parties that are signatories to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 4 permits States to derogate from certain rights guaranteed by the ICCPR in "time of public emergency". Any measures derogating from obligations under the Convention, however, must only be to the extent required by the exigencies of the situation and must be announced by the State party to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Some political theorists, such as Carl Schmitt, have argued that the power to decide the instauration of the state of emergency defines sovereignty itself. In State of Exception (2005), Giorgio Agamben has criticized this idea, arguing how the mechanism of the state of emergency deprives certain people of their civil rights, producing his interpretation of homo sacer.

State of emergency law in selected countries


The federal government of Canada can use the Emergencies Act to invoke a state of emergency. A national state of emergency automatically expires after 90 days. The Emergencies Act replaced the War Measures Act in 1988. The War Measures Act has been invoked three times in Canadian history, most controversially during the FLQ Crisis. A state of emergency can also be declared by provincial, territorial, and municipal governments [1].


Egyptians have been living under an Emergency Law (Law No. 162 of 1958) since 1967, except for an 18-month break in 1980. The emergency was imposed during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and reimposed following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. The law has been continuously extended every three years since 1981. Under the law, police powers are extended, constitutional rights suspended and censorship is legalized.[2] The law sharply circumscribes any non-governmental political activity: street demonstrations, non-approved political organizations, and unregistered financial donations are formally banned. Some 17,000 people are detained under the law, and estimates of political prisoners run as high as 30,000.[3]


The state of emergency in France is framed by the constitution of 1955, which states that it can be decreed by the President in the Council of Ministers, but has to be confirmed by Parliament in order to be held after 12 days. State of emergency gives authorities the power to:

  • Regulate or forbid circulation and gathering in some areas Template:See
  • Close places of gathering
  • Conduct house-to-house searches, 24h/24 without juridical oversight
  • Censorship

It may also give the military authority the power to act in place of civilian authorities, if a decree specifies it explicitly. It is unclear though how some of the legal possibilities can be implemented currently, because of various legal changes since the 1950s.

Since 1955, four states of emergency have been decreed:

  • In 1955 in Algeria due to independentist unrest
  • In 1958 due to the uprising in Algeria Template:See
  • In 1984 in New Caledonia due to independentist troubles
  • During the 2005 civil unrest in France, President Jacques Chirac declared a state of emergency on 8 November 2005. It was extended for three months on 16 November by the Parliament, dominated by the UMP majority. On December 10, France's highest administrative body, the Council of State, ruled that the three-month state of emergency decreed to guarantee calm following unrest was legal. It rejected a complaint from 74 law professors and the Green party, declaring that the conditions that led to the unrest that started on October 27, the quick spread of violence, and the possibility that it could recur justify the state of emergency, which is to end in mid-February. The complaint challenged the state of emergency's necessity and said it compromised fundamental liberties[4] [5] [6].


The Weimar Republic constitution allowed states of emergency under Article 48 to deal with rebellions. Article 48 was invoked numerous times during the 14-year life of the Republic, sometimes for no reason other than to allow the government to act when it was unable to obtain a parliamentary majority. Adolf Hitler, building on this precedent by previous Weimar leaders, used the article to establish himself as dictator and ushering in the Third Reich.

In the postwar Federal Republic of Germany, the Notstandgesetze (amendments to the Constitution passed on May 30, 1968 as a reaction to the resistance of the Ausserparlamentarische Opposition (APO), the extraparliamentary opposition, despite fierce opposition by the German student movement) states that the basic constitutional rights of the Grundgesetz may be limited in case of a state of defence (war), a state of tension (uprisings), or an internal state of emergency or disaster (catastrophe).


According to the Hungarian Constitution the Parliament can declare state of emergency in case of armed rebellion, natural or industrial disaster. It expires after 30 days, but can be extended. Most civil rights can be suspended, but basic human rights, like right to live, ban of torture, freedom of religion can not.

During state of emergency, the Parliament can not be disbanded.



In India, an external state of emergency was declared three times during wars:

In 1975 Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi declared a state of internal emergency (the Indian Emergency (1975 - 77)) after she was indicted in a corruption scandal and was ordered to vacate her seat in the Indian Parliament, allowing herself to rule by decree till 1977. India made great economic strides during the two year emergency period, but political opposition was heavily suppressed. Civil liberties were suspended and a mandatory birth control program was introduced by the government. Confident about her chances of getting reelected, Indira Gandhi relaxed the emergency and released dissidents. She then was trounced by an anti-Indira grand coalition in the 1977 elections.


In Spain there are three degrees of state of emergency (estado de emergencia in Spanish): alerta (alert), excepción (exception[al circumstance]) and sitio (siege). They are named by the constitution, which limits which rights may be suspended, but regulated by the "Ley Orgánica 4/1981" (Organic Law).

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom the Privy Council or a Senior Minister may make emergency regulations under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 if there is a serious threat to human welfare or the environment or in case of war or terrorism. These last for seven days unless confirmed by Parliament.

United States

A federal emergency declaration allows the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to exercise its power to deal with emergency situations; federal assistance also becomes available to areas that are declared to be in a state of emergency. For FEMA, emergency declarations are different from the more common disaster declarations done for hurricanes and floods.

In the United States, the chief executive is typically empowered to declare a State of Emergency. The President of the United States, a governor of a state, or even a local mayor may declare a State of Emergency within his or her jurisdiction. This is relatively rare at the federal level, but quite common at the state level in response to natural disasters.

Typically, a state of emergency empowers the executive to name coordinating officials to deal with the emergency and to override normal administrative processes regarding the passage of administrative rules.

The courts in the United States are often very lenient in allowing almost any action to be taken in the case of such a declared emergency, if it is reasonably related. For example, habeas corpus is the right to challenge an arrest in court. The U.S. Constitution says, "The Privildge of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." However, the Constitution has no provision for the suspension of any other rights during a state of emergency.

Habeas corpus was suspended on April 27, 1861 during the American Civil War by Abraham Lincoln in parts of midwestern states, including southern Indiana. He did so in response to demands by generals to set up military courts to rein in "copperheads", or those in the Union who supported the Confederate cause. Lambdin Milligan and four others were accused of planning to steal Union weapons and invade Union prisoner-of-war camps and were sentenced to hang by a military court in 1864. However, their execution was not set until May 1865, so they were able to argue the case after the Civil War. It was decided in the Supreme Court case Ex Parte Milligan 71 US 2 1866 that the suspension was unconstitutional because civilian courts were still operating, and the Constitution (according to the Court) only provided for suspension of habeas corpus if these courts are actually forced closed.

The Supreme Court ruling in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer established that Presidents may not act arbitrarily during an emergency.

As a result of the war on terror President Bush and his supporters suggested, as Commander-in-Chief, he has been granted emergency powers. See NSA warrantless spying controversy and Unitary executive theory for more on that subject.



Past states of emergency

See also


  • Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (2005)
  • Walter Benjamin, Zur Kritik der Gewalt ("Criticism of Violence")
  • Carl Schmitt, The Dictature and Political Theology

External links

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