State of emergency

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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).

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 (e.g. Art. 2-B Executive Law of New York state) It is also frequently illegal to modify the emergency law or Constitution during the emergency (e.g. Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, Chapter Xa, Atricle 115e, section 2).



  • 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.
  • Some political theorists have argued that the power to declare a state of emergency is the most fundamental power of government, and that knowing who decides on declaring a state of emergency in a given country or territory tells you a lot about where the real power in that country or territory is located, even if the country's constitution paints a different image on the surface.

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.

Separate 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 law of 1955. On 8 November 2005, President Jacques Chirac declared a state of emergency, effective at midnight. (See 2005 civil unrest in France).


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 emergency legislature (passed in 1968 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, a state of tension, or an internal state of emergency or disaster.


In India, an external state of emergency was declared three times during foreign aggression in 1962 Sino-Indian War in 1965 Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 in 1971 Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

in 1975 Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi declared a state of internal emergecy after she was indicted in a corruption scandal and was ordered to vacate her seat in the Indian Parliament. But instead, she declared the Indian Emergency, which allowed her to rule by decree till 1977. India made great economic strides during the two year emergency period, but political opposition was jailed. 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 political opposition. She then was trounced by a grand anti-Indira 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).

The United Kingdom

In the UK 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.

The United States


A federal emergency declaration allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to exercise its power to deal with emergency situations; federal assistance also become 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 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."

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 International Emergency Economic Powers Act allows presidents to declare national emergencies for the purpose of freezing assets in which a foreign party has an interest, but these national emergencies are not states of emergency. President Franklin Roosevelt declared such an emergency with respect to gold in 1933, which apparently remained in force until 1978. Although Congress terminated all outstanding emergencies that year, some tax protesters erroneously claim that the 1933 emergency is still in force and that it renders the constitution inactive.

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



Past SoEs

See also

External links

Other uses

State Of Emergency is also a Video Game by Rockstar Games in which players rebel against a shadowy corporation.

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