State of emergency

A state of emergency is a situation in which a government is empowered to perform actions or impose policies that it would normally not be permitted to undertake. A government can declare such a state during a disaster, civil unrest, or armed conflict. Such declarations alert citizens to change their normal behavior and orders government agencies to implement emergency plans. Justitium is its equivalent in Roman lawa concept in which the senate could put forward a final decree (senatus consultum ultimum) that was not subject to dispute.

States of emergency can also be used as a rationale or pretext for suspending rights and freedoms guaranteed under a country's constitution or basic law. The procedure for and legality of doing so vary by country.

Relationship with international law

Under international law, rights and freedoms may be suspended during a state of emergency; for example, a government can detain persons and hold them without trial. All rights that can be derogated from are listed in the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights. Non-derogable rights cannot be suspended.[1] Non-derogable rights are listed in Article 4 of the ICCPR; they include right to life, the rights to freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty, slavery, torture, and ill-treatment.[2]

Some countries have made it illegal to modify emergency law or the constitution during the emergency; other countries have the freedom to change any legislation or rights based constitutional frameworks at any time that the legislative chooses to do so. Constitutions are contracts between the government and the private individuals of that country. The International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is an international law document signed and ratified by states. Therefore, the Covenant applies to only those persons acting in an official capacity, not private individuals. However, States Parties to the Covenant are expected to integrate it into national legislation. The state of emergency (within the ICCPR framework) must be publicly declared and the Secretary-General of the United Nations and all other States Parties to the Covenant must be notified immediately, to declare the reason for the emergency, the date on which the emergency is to start, the derogations that may take place, with the timeframe of the emergency and the date in which the emergency is expected to finish. Although this is common protocol stipulated by the ICCPR, its monitoring Committee of experts has no sanction power and its recommendations are therefore not always strictly followed; enforcement is therefore better regulated by the American and European Conventions and Courts on human rights.[3]

Use and viewpoints

Though fairly uncommon in democracies, dictatorial regimes often declare a state of emergency that is prolonged indefinitely for the life of the regime, or for extended periods of time so that derogations can be used to override human rights of their citizens usually protected by the International Covenant on Civil and political rights.[4] In some situations, martial law is also declared, allowing the military greater authority to act. In other situations, emergency is not declared and de facto measures taken or decree-law adopted by the government. Ms. Nicole Questiaux (France) and Mr. Leandro Despouy (Argentina), two consecutive United Nations Special Rapporteurs, have recommended to the international community to adopt the following "principles" to be observed during a state or de facto situation of emergency : Principles of Legality, Proclamation, Notification, Time Limitation, Exceptional Threat, Proportionality, Non-Discrimination, Compatibility, Concordance and Complementarity of the Various Norms of International Law (cf. "Question of Human Rights and State of Emergency", E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/19, at Chapter II; see also état d'exception).

Article 4 to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), permits states to derogate from certain rights guaranteed by the ICCPR in "time of public emergency". Any measures derogating from obligations under the Covenant, however, must be to only 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. The European Convention on Human Rights[5] and American Convention on Human Rights[6] have similar derogatory provisions. No derogation is permitted to the International Labour Conventions.

Some political theorists, such as Carl Schmitt, have argued that the power to decide the initiation of the state of emergency defines sovereignty itself. In State of Exception (2005), Giorgio Agamben criticized this idea, arguing that the mechanism of the state of emergency deprives certain people of their civil and political rights, producing his interpretation of homo sacer.[7]


In many democratic states there are a selection of legal definitions for specific states of emergency,[8] when the constitution of the State is partially in abeyance depending on the nature of the perceived threat to the general public. In order of severity these may include:


Sometimes, the state of emergency can be abused by being invoked. An example would be to allow a state to suppress internal opposition without having to respect human rights. An example was the August 1991 attempted coup in the Soviet Union (USSR) where the coup leaders invoked a state of emergency; the failure of the coup led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Derogations by states having ratified or acceded to binding international agreements such as the ICCPR, the American and European Conventions on Human Rights and the International Labour Conventions are monitored by independent expert committees, regional Courts and other State Parties.[9]

Law in selected countries


The Constitution, which has been amended several times, has always allowed for a state of emergency (literally estado de sitio, "state of siege"), to be declared if the constitution or the authorities it creates are endangered by internal unrest or foreign attack. This provision was much abused during dictatorships, with long-lasting states of siege giving the government a free hand to suppress opposition (as of 2010 a state of emergency had been declared 52 times by democratic and dictatorial governments, starting in 1854 shortly after the constitution came into force[10]). The American Convention on Human Rights (Pacto de San José de Costa Rica), adopted in 1969 but ratified by Argentina only in 1984 immediately after the end of the National Reorganization Process, restricts abuse of the state of emergency by requiring any signatory nation declaring such a state to inform the other signatories of its circumstances and duration, and what rights are affected.


State-of-emergency legislation differs in each state of Australia.

In Victoria, the premier can declare a state of emergency if there is a threat to employment, safety or public order. The declaration expires after 30 days, and a resolution of either the upper or lower House of Parliament may revoke it earlier. Under the Public Safety Preservation Act, a declared state of emergency allows the premier to immediately make any desired regulations to secure public order and safety. However, these regulations expire if Parliament does not agree to continue them within 7 days. Also, under the Essential Services Act, the premier (or delegate) may operate or prohibit operation of, as desired, any essential service (e.g., transport, fuel, power, water, gas).

In regards to Emergency Management, regions (usually on a local government area basis) that have been affected by a natural disaster are the responsibility of the state, until that state declares a State of Emergency where access to the Federal Emergency Fund becomes available to help respond to and recover from natural disasters. A State of Emergency does not apply to the whole state, but rather districts or shires, where essential services may have been disrupted.

See also, Exceptional circumstances; a term most commonly used in Australia with regard to emergency relief payments.


Extreme act that, in Brazil (Estado de Sítio or Estado de Exceção, in Portuguese), can be declared on the following circumstances:

  • Serious disturbance with national impact;
  • Inefficiency on the Defense State previously decreed;
  • Declaration of war;
  • Response to foreign armed aggression.

The state of emergency could last for 30 days, being possible to extend it for more days in case of persistence of the reasons of exceptionality.

Only the President is able to declare or prorogate this State; after receiving formal authorization from National Congress and after consultation with the National Security Council or the Council of the Republic.


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, unless extended by the Governor-in-Council.[11] There are different levels of emergencies: Public Welfare Emergency, Public Order Emergency, International Emergency, and War Emergency.[12]

The Emergencies Act replaced the War Measures Act in 1988. The War Measures Act was invoked three times in Canadian history, most controversially during the 1970 October Crisis, and also during World War I (from 1914 to 1920, against threat of Communism) and World War II (from 1942 to 1945, against perceived threat from Japanese Canadians following Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor).

Under the current Emergency Act a state of emergency can also be declared by provincial, territorial, and municipal governments.[13] In addition Canada's federal government and any of its provincial governments can suspend, for five years at a time, Charter rights to fundamental freedoms in section 2, to legal rights in sections 7 through 14, and to equality rights in section 15 by legislation which invokes the notwithstanding clause, section 33, and therefore emergency powers can effectively be created even without using the Emergency Act.


The police chief in a district can impose a zone in which people can be body searched without a specific suspicion. Such an order must be issued in writing, published, and imposed for a limited period. The police law (article 6) regulates this area.[14] The normal procedure calls for assisting the suspect to a private area and stripping them.[15] The police can also impose a zone in where specific crimes such as violence, threats, blackmailing and vandalism can be punished with a double penalty length. The zone can only be imposed if there is an extraordinary crime development and the zone can only last up to three months unless the extraordinary crime development still applies.[16][17]

If the police feel that a situation involving a crowd of people can get out of hand, they can order the assembly to be dissolved and "pass the street" in the name of the king. People that after three such warnings are still part of the crowd can then without further warning be subjugated to mass arrest. All people arrested can then be detained for 24 hours without charging them or taking them for a judge. This is called a precluding arrest.


Egyptians lived under an Emergency Law (Law No. 162 of 1958)[18] from 1967 to 2012, except for an 18-month break in 1980 and 1981. The emergency was imposed during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and reimposed following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. The law continuously extended every three years since 1981. Under the law, police powers were extended, constitutional rights suspended and censorship was legalized.[19] The law sharply circumscribed any non-governmental political activity: street demonstrations, non-approved political organizations, and unregistered financial donations were formally banned. Some 17,000 people were detained under the law, and estimates of political prisoners run as high as 30,000.[20] The emergency rule expired on May 31, 2012, and was put back in place in January 2013.[21][22] Egypt declared a month-long national emergency on 14 August 2013.[23]

The Egyptian presidency announced a one-month state of emergency across the country on August 14, 2013 and ordered the armed forces to help the Interior Ministry enforce security. The announcement made on state TV followed deadly countrywide clashes between supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi and the security forces.[24]


Three main provisions concern various kind of "state of emergency" in France: Article 16 of the Constitution of 1958 allows, in time of crisis, "extraordinary powers" to the president. Article 36 of the same constitution regulates "state of siege" (état de siège). Finally, the Act of 3 April 1955 allows the proclamation, by the Council of Ministers, of the "state of emergency" (état d'urgence).[25] The distinction between article 16 and the 1955 Act concerns mainly the distribution of powers: whereas in article 16, the executive power basically suspend the regular procedures of the Republic, the 1955 Act permits a twelve-day state of emergency, after which a new law extending the emergency must be voted by the Parliament. These dispositions have been used at various times, in 1955, 1958, 1961, 1988, 2005, and 2015.


The Weimar Republic constitution (1919–1933)[26] allowed states of emergency under Article 48 to deal with rebellions. Article 48 was often invoked 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.

After the February 27, 1933, Reichstag fire, an attack blamed on the communists, Adolf Hitler declared a state of emergency using Article 48, and then had President von Hindenburg sign the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended some of the basic civil liberties provided by the Weimar Constitution (such as habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the speech, the freedom to assemble or the privacy of communications) for the whole duration of the Third Reich.[27] On March 23, the Reichstag enacted the Enabling Act of 1933 with the required two-thirds majority, which enabled Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his cabinet to enact laws without the participation of the legislative. (The Weimar Constitution was never actually repealed by Nazi Germany, but it effectively became ineffective after the passage of the Enabling Act.[28]) These two laws implemented the Gleichschaltung, the Nazis' institution of totalitarianism.

In the postwar Federal Republic of Germany the Emergency Acts state that some of the basic constitutional rights of the Basic Law may be limited in case of a state of defence, a state of tension, or an internal state of emergency or disaster (catastrophe). These amendments to the constitution were passed on May 30, 1968, despite fierce opposition by the so-called extra-parliamentary opposition (see German student movement for details).

Hong Kong

During the state of war, or turmoil which threatens national security or unity, and the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress believes is beyond the control of the local government, it can invoke Article 18 of the Hong Kong Basic Law and declare a "State of Emergency" in Hong Kong, thus the Central People's Government can selectively implement national laws not normally allowed in Hong Kong.[29] Deployment of troops from the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison under the "Law of the People's Republic of China on Garrisoning the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region" can happen.[30]

The Chief Executive of Hong Kong along with the Executive Council can prohibit public gatherings, issue curfew orders, prohibit the movement of vessels or aircraft, delegate authority, and other listed powers, under "Cap. 245 Public Order Ordinance".[31]

Although the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison may not interfere in internal Hong Kong affairs, however, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government may invoke Article 14 of the Hong Kong Basic Law and request the Central People's Government permission to have the garrison assist in "maintenance of public order or disaster relief".[32]

Since 1997, State of Emergency have never been declared. However, emergency measures have been used in varying degrees over the years during British rule and after the establishment of the Special Administrative Region. A few notable mentions are as follow:

On 4 October 2019, Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong S.A.R., invoked Section 2(1) within "Cap. 241 Emergency Regulations Ordinance"[33] implemented since 1922 and last amended by the Legislative Council in 1999, which allow the government to implement the new, "Cap. 241K Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation".[34] The new regulation forbid public assembly participants from wearing masks or obscure faces during such events without reasonable excuses. The permitted excuses are: pre-existing medical or health reasons, religious reasons, and if the person uses the face covering for physical safety while performing an activity connected with their profession or employment. Any person defying the new regulation face possible criminal prosecution. The government's motive in doing so is to end months of social unrest and riots, however, did not declare a "State of Emergency". The new regulation took effect at 00:00 HKT on 5 October 2019.[35] Offenders risked a maximum of one-year imprisonment or a fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,200).[36]

The High Court of Hong Kong denied an application for a judicial injunction of the anti-mask law, on the same night shortly before the new regulation took effect. A subsequent attempt by pro-democrats to halt the new regulation also failed, however, the court recommended a judicial review at a later date.[37]

On 18 November 2019, the High Court ruled the "Cap. 241 Emergency Regulations Ordinance" is "incompatible with the Basic Law", however, the court "leaves open the question of the constitutionality of the ERO insofar as it relates to any occasion of emergency." The court also held the ordinance meets the "prescribed by law" requirement. However, the court deemed s3(1)(b), (c), (d) and s5 of the regulation do not meet the proportionality test as they impose restrictions on fundamental rights that goes beyond what is necessary in furthering its intended goals.[38]

On 22 November 2019, the High Court made the following remark:

"Nevertheless, we recognise that our Judgment is only a judgment at first instance, and will soon be subject to an appeal to the Court of Appeal. In view of the great public importance of the issues raised in this case, and the highly exceptional circumstances that Hong Kong is currently facing, we consider it right that we should grant a short interim suspension order so that the respondents may have an opportunity to apply to the Court of Appeal, if so advised, for such interim relief as may be appropriate. Accordingly, we shall grant an interim temporary suspension order to postpone the coming into operation of the declarations of invalidity for a period of 7 days up to the end of 29 November 2019, with liberty to apply."[39][40]

On 26 November 2019, the High Court announced hearing for the government appeal against the judgement is on 9 January 2020.[41]

On 27 November 2019, the Court of Appeal extended the interim suspension of the judgment until 10 December 2019.[42][43]

On 10 December 2019, the Court of Appeal refused to suspend the "unconstitutional" ruling by the Court of First Instance on the anti-mask regulation. As scheduled, a full hearing will commence on 9 January 2020.[44][45][46]


According to the Hungarian Constitution, the National Assembly of Hungary can declare state of emergency in case of armed rebellion or natural or industrial disaster. It expires after 30 days, but can be extended. Most civil rights can be suspended, but basic human rights (such as the right to life, the ban of torture, and freedom of religion) cannot.

During state of emergency, the Parliament cannot be disbanded.


The Icelandic constitution provides no mechanism for the declaration of war, martial law nor state of emergency.


The State of Emergency can be proclaimed by the President of India, when he/she perceives grave threats to the nation, albeit through the advice of the cabinet of ministers. Part XVIII of the Constitution of India gives the President the power to overrule many provisions, including the ones guaranteeing fundamental rights to the citizens of India

In India, a state of emergency was declared twice:

  1. Between 26 October 1962 to 10 January 1968 during the India-China war — "the security of India" having been declared "threatened by external aggression".
  2. Between 3 December 1971 to 21 March 1977 originally proclaimed during the Indo Pakistan war, and later extended on 25 June 1975, along with the third proclamation — "the security of India" having been declared "threatened by external aggression" and by "internal disturbances"

The first Emergency was declared by the president, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed on advice of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi The provisions of the Constitution allows the Prime Minister to rule by decree.


In Ireland declaring a state of "national emergency" involves Article 28.3.3° of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, which states that:[47]

Nothing in this Constitution [...] shall be invoked to invalidate any law enacted by the Oireachtas [parliament] which is expressed to be for the purpose of securing the public safety and the preservation of the State in time of war or armed rebellion, or to nullify any act done or purporting to be done in time of war or armed rebellion in pursuance of any such law.

In addition, during a "war or armed rebellion", military tribunals may try civilians,[48] and the Defence Forces are not bound by habeas corpus.[49]

The First Amendment of the Constitution of 1939 allows an emergency to be declared during wars in which the state is a non-belligerent, subject to resolutions by the houses of the Oireachtas.[50] By the 2nd Amendment of 1941, an emergency ends, not automatically when the war does, but only by Oireachtas resolutions.[51] The 21st Amendment of 2002 prevents the reintroduction of capital punishment during an emergency.[52]

The first amendment was rushed through the Oireachtas after the outbreak of the Second World War, in which the state remained neutral. Immediately after, the required resolution was passed, in turn enabling the passage of the Emergency Powers Act 1939 (EPA), which granted the government and its ministers sweeping powers to issue statutory orders termed "Emergency Powers Orders" (EPOs).[53][54] (The period in Ireland was and is referred to as "The Emergency".) The EPA expired in 1946, although some EPOs were continued under the Supplies and Services (Temporary Provisions) Act 1946 until as late as 1957.[55][56] Rationing continued until 1951.

The 1939 state of emergency was not formally ended until a 1976 resolution, which also declared a new state of emergency in relation to the Troubles in Northern Ireland and in particular the recent assassination of the British ambassador to Ireland, Christopher Ewart Biggs.[57] The Emergency Powers Act 1976 was then passed to increase the Garda Síochána powers to arrest, detain, and question those suspected of offences against the state.[58] President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh referred the bill under Article 26 of the Constitution to the Supreme Court, which upheld its constitutionality.[59] The referral was condemned by minister Paddy Donegan as a "thundering disgrace", causing Ó Dálaigh to resign in protest. The 1976 EPA expired after one year, but the state of emergency persisted until 1995, when as part of the Northern Ireland peace process it was rescinded as a "confidence building measure" to satisfy physical force republicans after the Provisional IRA's 1994 ceasefire.[60]

The Offences against the State Act does not require a state of emergency under Article 28.3.3°.[61][62] Part V of the Act, which provides for a non-jury Special Criminal Court (SCC), is permitted under Article 38.3.1°.[63][64] Part V is activated by a declaration from the government that it is "necessary to secure the preservation of public peace and order", and it can be rescinded by vote of Dáil Éireann. Provision for internment is similarly activated and rescinded (originally by Part VI of the 1939 act, later by Part II of a 1940 amending act).[61][65][66] Parts V and VI were both activated during the Second World War and the IRA's late 1950s Border Campaign; Part V has been continually active since 1972.[67][68]

Several official reviews of the Constitution and the Offences Against the State Acts have recommended a time limit within which the operation of Article 28.3.3° or Article 38.3.1° must either be explicitly renewed by resolution or else lapse.[69][70][71]

Israel and Palestine

Israel's Emergency Defence Regulations are older than the state itself, having been passed under the British Mandate for Palestine in 1945. A repeal was briefly considered in 1967 but cancelled following the Six-Day War. The regulations allow Israel, through its military, to control movements and prosecute suspected terrorists in occupied territories, and to censor publications that are deemed prejudicial to national defense.


The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress can declare a state of emergency and deploy troops from the People's Liberation Army Macau Garrison under the Article 14 of Macau's Basic Law on the defence of the Macau Special Administrative Region.

The Chief Executive of Macau can use the Macau national security law to prohibit public gatherings, issue curfew orders, prohibit other activities perceived to be a threat against the Region or China.

Since 1999 no emergency measure have been enacted. Prior to 1999 emergency measures have been used for 1 major incident:


In Malaysia, if the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Monarch) is satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security, or the economic life, or public order in the Federation or any part thereof is threatened, he may issue a Proclamation of Emergency making therein a declaration to that effect.[72]

In the history of Malaysia, a state of emergency was declared by the then-colonial government of Britain. The state of emergency lasted from 1948 until 1960 to deal with the communists led by Chin Peng.

States of emergency were also declared during the Konfrontasi in 1962, the 1966 Sarawak constitutional crisis and 1977 Kelantan Emergency.

When a race riot broke out on May 13, 1969, a state of emergency was declared.

On August 11, 2005 a state of emergency was announced for the world's 13th largest port, Port Klang and the district of Kuala Selangor after air pollution there reached dangerous levels (defined as a value greater than 500 on the Air Pollution Index or API).

Thiery Rommel, the European Commission's envoy to Malaysia, told Reuters by telephone on November 13, 2007 (the last day of his mission) that, "Today, this country still lives under (a state of) emergency."[73] Although not officially proclaimed as a state of emergency, the Emergency Ordinance and the Internal Security Act had allowed detention for years without trial.

On June 23, 2013 a state of emergency was declared by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak for Muar and Ledang, Johor as smoke from land-clearing fires in Indonesia pushed air pollution index to above 750. This was the first time in years that air quality had dipped to a hazardous level with conditions worsening as dry weather persisted and fires raged in Sumatra.[74]


A state of emergency was declared on December 26, 2004, following the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami. The resulting tsunamis caused extensive damage to the country's infrastructure, cutting off communications from large swathes of the nation, decimating islands and forcing the closure of a number of resorts due to the damage.

On February 5, 2018, a state of emergency was declared by Maldives's President Abdulla Yameen for 15 days and ordered security forces into the supreme court and arrested a former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the Chief Justice of Honorable Supreme court of Maldives.[75]


Namibia declared last a State of Emergency due to an ongoing drought in 2016.[76]

New Zealand

The Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002 gives the government and local city council the power to issue a state of emergency, either over the entire country or within a specific region.[77] This may suspend ordinary work and essential services if need be. The state of emergency in New Zealand expires on the commencement of the seventh day after the date on which it was declared, unless it is extended. However, the minister of civil defence or local mayor may lift the state of emergency after an initial review of the region's status.


In Nigeria, a state of emergency is usually declared in times of great civil unrest. In recent years, it has specifically been implemented in reaction to terrorist attacks on Nigerians by the Islamic jihadist group Boko Haram.

On 14 May 2013, Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency for the entire northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.[79] A more limited state of emergency had been declared on 31 December 2011 in parts of Yobe, Borno, Plateau and Niger states. This earlier declaration included the temporary shutdown of the international borders in those regions.[80]


In Pakistan, a state of emergency was declared five times in its history:

The first three were regarded as the imposition of direct martial law.


In Romania, there are two types of states of emergency, each designed for a different type of situation.

  • State of alert (Stare de alertă in Romanian): Non-military, can be enforced by a prefect. Roadblocks are enforced. Any utilitarian vehicle or equipment can be temporarily used by the state, without any restriction. Evacuation is not mandatory, unless extreme circumstances apply. Only EMS, Police and firefighting personnel are required to intervene. This situation can be enforced in case of natural disasters or civil unrest.
  • State of emergency (stare de urgentă in Romanian): Can only be enforced by the President of Romania with approval from Parliament. The military becomes the upper form of control in the country (under the rule of the president). The civilian population is subject to strict regulations, imposed by the type of emergency. All private and public non-crucial activities are suspended. Essential services might be disrupted. This situation can be enforced in case of extreme circumstances, such as a war.
  • Special zone of public safety (Zonă specială de siguranță publică in Romanian): Administrative, can be enforced by local police. This implies installation of road check-points and higher numbers in police and gendarmes/ riot police presence, patrolling the area. There is also a ban that restricts the right to travel for people in the area; any vehicle and individual transiting the zone are subject to screening.[81][82]

The most well-known event in which the state of emergency has been enforced was because of 1977 Vrancea earthquake.

The last instance in which the special zone of public safety was enforced was in December 8, 2013-ongoing, in Pungești, Vaslui following civil unrest in Pungești from Chevron's plans to begin exploring shale-gas in the village.[83] According to police officials, the special security zone will be maintained as long as there is conflict in the area that poses a threat to Chevron's operations.[81] This special security zone has faced domestic and international criticism for alleged human-rights abuses.

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone declared, on 7 February 2019, a State of Emergency due to ongoing rape and sexual violence in the country.[84]

South Africa

States of emergency in South Africa are governed by section 37 of the Constitution and by the State of Emergency Act, 1997. The President may declare a state of emergency only when "the life of the nation is threatened by war, invasion, general insurrection, disorder, natural disaster or other public emergency" and if the ordinary laws and government powers are not sufficient to restore peace and order. The declaration is made by proclamation in the Government Gazette and may only apply from the time of publication, not retroactively. It can only continue for 21 days unless the National Assembly grants an extension, which may be for at most three months at a time. The High Courts have the power, subject to confirmation by the Constitutional Court, to determine the validity of the declaration of a state of emergency.[85]

During a state of emergency the President has the power to make emergency regulations "necessary or expedient" to restore peace and order and end the emergency. This power can be delegated to other authorities. Emergency measures can violate the Bill of Rights, but only to a limited extent. Some rights are inviolable, including amongst others the rights to life and to human dignity; the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of race, sex or religion; the prohibition of torture or inhuman punishment; and the right of accused people to a fair trial. Any violation of a constitutional right must be strictly required by the emergency. Emergency measures may not indemnify the government or individuals for illegal actions. They may impose criminal penalties, but not exceeding three years' imprisonment. They may not require military service beyond that required by the ordinary laws governing the defence force. An emergency measure may be disapproved by the National Assembly, in which case it lapses, and no emergency measure may interfere with the elections, powers or sittings of Parliament or the provincial legislatures. The courts have the power to determine the validity of any emergency measure.

The constitution places strict limits on any detention without trial during a state of emergency. A friend or family member of the detainee must be informed, and the name and place of detention must be published in the Government Gazette. The detainee must have access to a doctor and a legal representative. He or she must be brought before a court within at most ten days, for the court to determine whether the detention is necessary, and if not released may demand repeated review every ten days. At the court review the detainee must be allowed legal representation and must be allowed to appear in person. The provisions on detention without trial do not apply to prisoners of war in an international conflict; instead they must be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and other international law.


In Spain, there are three degrees of state of emergency (estado de emergencia in Spanish): alarma (alarm or 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).

On December 4, 2010, the first state of alert was declared following the air traffic controllers strike.[86][87] It was the first time since the Francisco Franco's regime that a state of emergency was declared.[88]

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, the President is able to proclaim emergency regulations under the Public Security Ordinance in the constitution in order to preserve public security and public order; suppression of mutiny, riot or civil commotion; or maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community. These regulations last for one month unless confirmed otherwise by Parliament.[89]


According to Art. 185 of the Swiss Federal Constitution The Federal Council (Bundesrat) can call up in their own competence military personnel of maximum 4000 militia for three weeks to safeguard inner or outer security (called Federal Intervention or Federal Execution, respectively). A larger number of soldiers or of a longer duration is subject to parliamentary decision. For deployments within Switzerland the principle of subsidiarity rules: as a first step, unrest has to be overcome with the aid of cantonal police units.


An emergency prevailed in Syria from 1962 to 2011. Originally predicated on the conflict with Israel, the emergency acted to centralize authority in the presidency and the national security apparatus while silencing public dissent. The emergency was terminated in response to protests that preceded the Syrian Civil War. Under the 2012 constitution, the president may pass an emergency decree with a 2/3 concurrence of his ministers, provided that he presents it to the legislature for constitutional review.

Trinidad and Tobago

A state of emergency was declared in 1970 during the Black Power Revolution by then Prime Minister Eric Williams. During the attempted state coup by the Jamaat al Muslimeen against the NAR government of the then Prime Minister A. N. R. Robinson,[90][91] a state of emergency was declared during the coup attempt and for a period after the coup.

On August 4, 1995, a state of emergency was declared to remove the Speaker of the House Occah Seepaul by Prime Minister Patrick Manning during a constitutional crisis.[92] The government had attempted to remove the speaker via a no-confidence motion, which failed. The state of emergency was used to remove the speaker using the emergency powers granted.[93]

The Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced a state of emergency on 22 August 2011 at 8:00 pm in an attempt to crack down on the trafficking of illegal drugs and firearms, in addition to gangs. The decision of the President, George Maxwell Richards, to issue the proclamation for the state of emergency was debated in the country's Parliament as required by the Constitution on September 2, 2011 and passed by the required simple majority of the House of Representatives. On September 4 the Parliament extended the state of emergency for a further 3 months. It ended in December 2011.


Since the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 the military conducted three coups d'état and announced martial law. Martial law between 1978 and 1983 was replaced by a state of emergency that lasted until November 2002. The latest state of emergency was declared by President Erdoğan on 20 July 2016 following a failed coup attempt on 15 July 2016 by a faction of the country's armed forces. It was lifted in 2018.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, only the British Sovereign,[94] on the advice of the Privy Council, or a Minister of the Crown in exceptional circumstances, has the power to introduce emergency regulations under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, in case of an emergency, broadly defined as war or attack by a foreign power, terrorism which poses a threat of serious damage to the security of the UK, or events which threaten serious damage to human welfare or the environment of a place in the UK. The duration of these regulations is limited to thirty days, but may be extended by Parliament. A state of emergency was last invoked in 1974 by Prime Minister Edward Heath in response to increasing industrial action.

The act grants wide-ranging powers to central and local government in the event of an emergency. It allows the modification of primary legislation by emergency regulation, with the exception of the Human Rights Act 1998 and Part 2 of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

United States

The United States Constitution explicitly provides some emergency powers:

  • Congress may authorize the government to call forth the militia to execute the laws, suppress an insurrection or repel an invasion.
  • Congress may authorize the government to suspend consideration of writs of habeas corpus "when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it."
  • Felony charges may be brought without presentment or grand jury indictment in cases arising "in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger."
  • A state government may engage in war without Congress's approval if "actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay."

Aside from these, many provisions of law exist in various jurisdictions, which take effect only upon an executive declaration of emergency; some 500 federal laws take effect upon a presidential declaration of emergency. The National Emergencies Act regulates this process at the federal level. It requires the President to specifically identify the provisions activated and to renew the declaration annually so as to prevent an arbitrarily broad or open-ended emergency. Presidents have occasionally taken action justified as necessary or prudent because of a state of emergency, only to have the action struck down in court as unconstitutional.[95]

A state governor or local mayor may declare a state of emergency within his or her jurisdiction. This is common at the state level in response to natural disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency maintains a system of assets, personnel and training to respond to such incidents. For example, on December 10, 2015, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency due to flooding and landslides caused by heavy rains.[96]

The 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act allows the government to freeze assets, limit trade and confiscate property in response to an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to the United States that originates substantially outside of it. As of 2015 more than twenty emergencies under the IEEPA remain active regarding various subjects, the oldest of which was declared in 1979 with regard to the government of Iran. Another ongoing national emergency, declared after the September 11 attacks, authorizes the president to retain or reactivate military personnel beyond their normal term of service.[97]


Active in 2019

Past states of emergency

  • In October 2019, a state of emergency was declared in the capital of Chile, Santiago, after violent protests broke out in response to the rising cost of living.[107] This state of emergency was later extended to other cities in the country.[108] The state of emergency was lifted on October 27 2019.[109]
  • At midnight on April 23, 2019, a state of emergency was declared across Sri Lanka following multiple bomb attacks on churches, luxury hotels and other locations across the country in which 253 people were killed and more than 500 injured.[110][111][112] After being extended three times, the state of emergency was lifted on August 25, 2019.[113]
  • In February 2018, Ethiopia declared a 6 months long state of emergency following the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.[114]
  • In March 2018 a state of emergency was imposed in Sri Lanka in the city of Kandy for a period of 10 days following clashes between Sinhalese and Muslims.[115]
  • Following the 2017 Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared a nationwide three-month-long state of emergency.[116]
  • On August 12, 2017, a state of emergency was declared in the U.S state of Virginia due to escalating tensions amid protesters and counter-protesters in Charlottesville.[117]
  • On September 21, 2016, a state of emergency was declared in the U.S state of North Carolina for riots in Charlotte after a police shooting of a black male.
  • On September 4, 2016, a state of emergency was declared in the Philippines by President Rodrigo Duterte following the September 2 bombings in Davao City that killed 14 people and seriously wounded at least 60 others.
  • On 12 June 2016, following the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting in which at least 50 people were killed (including the shooter), the Governor of Florida declared a state of emergency in the immediate Orlando area.[118]
  • France declared a state of emergency in response to the November 2015 Paris attacks which after five extensions ended in November 2017.[119]
  • The U.S state of Maryland declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard of the United States on April 27, 2015, as a direct result of the rioting and widespread physical violence during protesting in Baltimore due to the Death of Freddie Gray.
  • Egypt had been under a nearly-continuous state of emergency since 1967 (interrupted for 18 months in 1980–81); the People's Assembly renewed it every two to three years.[18][20][120] The state of emergency expired on May 31, 2012.[121]
  • Tunisia declared state of emergency January 2011, following unrest from economic issues.[122]
  • November 28, 2011 – Slovakia declared a state of emergency for numerous hospitals, due to mass medicare workers resignation.[123]
  • March 15, 2011 – Bahrain declared a state of emergency on 15 March 2011 and asked the military to reassert its control over the capital, Manama, as clashes between Shia and Sunni groups spread across the country. Bahrain has been gripped by deepening political unrest and widespread protests for over a month, with the Shia majority and some Sunni liberals calling for democracy and an end to discrimination.[124]
  • September 30, 2010 – A state of emergency was declared in Ecuador due to a coup by armed forces.
  • April 11, 2009 – Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in the areas of Pattaya and Chonburi, in response to anti-government protesters breaking into the conference center of a hotel complex in the sea-side resort city of Pattaya, in the then-venue site of the ASEAN was being held, immediately resulting in its cancellation.[125] Another state of emergency on April 12, 2009, was announced in Bangkok and the surrounding areas, due to an heightened escalation of tension between the government and anti-government protesters, but was later lifted.[126]
  • January 2009 – Slovakia was in a state of emergency due to natural gas supply shortage.
  • January 11, 2007 – Bangladesh was in a state of emergency due to electoral violence. This ended on December 16, 2008, when new parliamentary elections were organized.
  • November 26, 2008 - In Maharashtra state, India, Maharashtra Government declared a state of Emergency following the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
  • September 2, 2008 – A state of emergency was declared in Bangkok by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej following civil unrest; it was lifted on September 14, 2008.
  • July 1, 2008 – Mongolian president Nambaryn Enkhbayar declared a state of emergency in the capital Ulaanbaatar for four days after violent protests against the ex-communist Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP). The MPRP had claimed a majority of seats in the 2008 parliamentary elections, but was accused of fraud and vote rigging by the less-successful parties.[127]
  • March 2008 – Armenia was in a state of emergency from March 2, 2008 to March 20, 2008, declared by President Robert Kocharyan in response to protests over the 2008 Armenian presidential elections.[128]
  • November 3, 2007 – Pakistan was in a state of emergency from November 3, 2007 to December 15, 2007. President Pervez Musharraf declared emergency "to stop Pakistan from committing suicide". He lifted the state of emergency after he resigned from the army and took the oath of office as a civilian President of Pakistan.
  • February 24, 2006 – the Philippines declared a state of emergency via Philippine Proclamation 1017 for one week until Philippine Proclamation 1021, in response to a supposed coup against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's government in the midst of the 20th anniversary of the 1986 People Power Revolution that toppled the rule of Ferdinand Marcos.
  • Mid-August 2005 – Sucumbios and Orellana, two provinces of Ecuador, because of indigenous protests against oil firms
  • April 15, 2005 – Quito, capital of Ecuador due to protests; lifted less than a day later, on April 17, 2005.
  • December 2004 – Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Maldives because of the tsunami.
  • November 2003 – Georgia, following weeks of civil unrest.
  • August 2003 – Michigan, Ohio, New York, United States, and Ontario, Canada, in response to the 2003 North America blackout.
  • March 2003 – Serbia after assassination of Zoran Đinđić (vanredno stanje).
  • July 2002 – Paraguay, in response to public unrest.
  • November 2001 – Nepal, in response to increased guerrilla activity.
  • November 30, 1999 – The U.S city of Seattle, Washington, stemming from protest of the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 and police reaction to it.
  • May–June 1998 – Indonesia declares state of emergency, due to May 1998 riots of Indonesia.
  • March 2, 1997 – The 1997 unrest in Albania, also known as the Lottery Uprising or Anarchy in Albania, was an uprising sparked by Ponzi scheme failures. Albania descended into anarchy and violence in which the government was toppled and some 2,000 people were killed. On March 1, Prime Minister Aleksandër Meksi resigned and on March 2 President Sali Berisha declared a state of emergency.
  • August 5, 1995 – Trinidad and Tobago to remove Speaker of the House Occah Seapaul who refused to resign.[129]
  • Winter 1995 – The U.S city of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan after a severe snowstorm buried the city in 6 feet (1.8 m) of snow.
  • April–May 1992 – California, United States. State of Emergency was declared in response of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. After Rodney King was video taped being beaten by White police men, that was acquitted by jury at trial.
  • March 1992 – Republic of Moldova, in response to War of Transnistria
  • 1992 to 2011 – Algeria endures a 19-year state of emergency enacted at the beginning of the 1992 coup. The state of emergency, which suspended citizens' rights in lieu of military power, was lifted after the Algerian Government gave in to protester demands during the 2011 Arab Spring.[9]
  • August 1991 – Soviet Union, enemies of Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms evoked the state of emergency because Gorbachev, according to them, was destroying both communism and the state itself. The leader of the coup was Gennady Yanayev.
  • July–August 1990 – Trinidad and Tobago declared a state of emergency when a group stormed Parliament and a TV Station holding government officials, including the Prime Minister at ransom. See Jamaat al Muslimeen coup attempt
  • July 1985 to February 1990 – South Africa, in response to increasing civil unrest and township violence opposing apartheid rule.

See also


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  • Agamben, Giorgio (2005). State of Exception. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-00925-4.. Excerpt online: "A Brief History of the State of Exception".
  • Barzilai, Gad (1996). Wars, Internal Conflicts, and Political Order. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-2943-1..
  • Walter Benjamin, Zur Kritik der Gewalt ("Critique of Violence")
  • Fabbri, Lorenzo. "Chronotopologies of the Exception. Agamben and Derrida before the Camps", "Diacritics," Volume 39, Number 3 (2009): 77–95.
  • Hederman, Anthony J.; Committee to Review the Offences against the State Acts 1939 to 1998 (August 2002). "Report" (PDF). Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  • Carl Schmitt, On Dictatorship and Political Theology
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