Martial law

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
For other uses, see Martial law (disambiguation).

Martial law is the system of rules that takes effect (usually after a formal declaration) when a military authority takes control of the normal administration of justice.

Martial law is instituted most often when it becomes necessary to favor the activity of military authorities and organizations, usually for urgent unforeseen needs, and when the normal institutions of justice either cannot function or could be deemed too slow or too weak for the new situation; e.g., due to war, major natural disaster, civil disorder, in occupied territory, or after a coup d'état. The need to preserve the public order during an emergency is the essential goal of martial law. However, declaration of martial law is also sometimes used by dictatorships, especially military dictatorships, to enforce their rule.

Usually martial law reduces some of the personal rights ordinarily granted to the citizen, limits the length of the trial processes, and prescribes more severe penalties than ordinary law. In many countries martial law prescribes the death penalty for certain crimes, even if ordinary law does not contain that crime or punishment in its system.

In many countries martial law imposes particular rules, one of which is curfew. Often, under this system, the administration of justice is left to military tribunals, called courts-martial. The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is likely to occur.


Examples in and of various countries


For many years the Canadian government could institute martial law through a piece of legislation known as the War Measures Act. This act was invoked three times, in both world wars and in the October Crisis, although the October 1970 incident was not to be considered martial law as military only assisted police and guarded government officials and buildings.

People's Republic of China (mainland China)

The Chinese constitution originally granted the National People's Congress the power to declare martial law. In 1989 Premier Li Peng unilaterally evoked the martial law clause to allow the military to stage a crackdown on Tiananmen Square protestors. This action proved controversial, and in 2004 the clause was finally weakened into a provision that allowed the government to simply declare a state of emergency.

Republic of China (Taiwan)

After the Kuomintang (Nationalist) regime of the Republic of China retreated from mainland China to Taiwan, the distinction of having the longest period of martial law in modern history was imposed on Taiwan and the outlying islands administered by the Republic of China. In the aftermath of the 228 Incident of 1947, martial law was declared in 1948, and the perceived need to suppress Communist and pro-democracy activities on the island meant that the martial law was not lifted until 1987.


The Philippines was under the rule of martial law from 1972 to 1981 under the authoritarian rule of Ferdinand Marcos. Martial law was declared to quell increasing civil strife and the threat of communist takeover following a series of bombings in Manila. The declaration of martial law was initially well-received, but became unpopular as excesses and human rights abuses by the military emerged.Torture was used in extracting information to their enemies


There are no provisions for martial law as such in Switzerland. Under the Army Law of 1995 [1], the Army can be called upon by cantonal (state) authorities for assistance (Assistenzdienst). This regularly happens in the case of natural disasters or special protection requirements (e.g., for the World Economic Forum in Davos). This assistance generally requires parliamentary authorisation, though, and takes place in the regular legal framework and under the civilian leadership of the cantonal authorities. On the other hand, the federal authorities are authorised to use the Army to enforce law and order when the Cantons no longer can or want to do so (Ordnungsdienst). This power largely fell into disuse after World War II. See [2].

United States of America

The martial law concept in the U.S. is closely tied with the Writ of habeas corpus, which is in essence the right to a hearing on lawful imprisonment, or more broadly, the supervision of law enforcement by the judiciary. The ability to suspend habeas corpus is often equated with martial law. Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution states, "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

In United States law, martial law is limited by several court decisions that were handed down between the American Civil War and World War II. In Ex Parte Milligan 71 US 2 1866, the Supreme Court of the United States held that martial law could not be instituted within the United States when its civilian courts are in operation. In 1878, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids military involvement in domestic law enforcement without congressional approval. The National Guard is an exception, since unless federalized, they are under the control of state governors. [3]

The U.S. State of Tennessee

The Tennessee Constitution outlaws martial law within its jurisdiction.

The Territory of Hawaii

During World War II (1941 to 1944) what is now the State of Hawaii was held under martial law.

New Orleans, Louisiana

During the War of 1812, U.S. General Andrew Jackson imposed martial law in New Orleans, Louisiana after liberating the encampment of New Orleans from British invaders.

Hurricane Katrina

Contrary to many media reports at the time, martial law was not declared in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, because no such term exists in Louisiana state law[4]. However, a state of emergency was declared, which does give unique powers to the state government similar to those of martial law. On the evening of August 31, 2005, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin nominally declared "martial law" and said that "officers don't have to worry about civil rights and Miranda rights in stopping the looters." [5]

See also "What Is Martial Law? And is New Orleans under it?" by the Slate Explainer.


In January of 2004, the current President of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, declared a state of martial law in the provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat in response to the growing South Thailand insurgency.

See also

External links

Personal tools