The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

« Calling things by the wrong name adds to the affliction of the world. » Albert Camus.

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State of Emergency/State of Siege

In the case of serious threats to the public order or of dangers threatening the existence of a country, the government of that country may declare a state of emergency or a state of siege (depending on the circumstances). The legislative branch of a government may then vote to adopt—or the executive branch may enact—exceptional measures necessary to face the threat.

The measures implemented in such situations—for instance, internal disturbances and tensions—may limit or suspend certain rights. There are, however, fundamental human rights and freedoms that may not be infringed on: these are the inalienable rights set forth in international human rights conventions.

Humanitarian law may only be invoked if the violence reaches the level of an actual armed conflict. Nonetheless, the principles protected by Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions remain applicable.

Fundamental guaranteesInternal disturbances and tensionsNon-international armed conflict

State of Siege

When faced with a situation of particular gravity within a State, caused by a state of war or other exceptional circumstances (generally relating to the dangers prevailing in a besieged or encircled locality), a state of siege may be proclaimed. Exceptional measures may be adopted to ensure or restore law and order. Such measures may extend to the delegation of civilian powers to the military authority.

State of Emergency

This is a judicial situation that resembles a state of siege but gives rise to less severe restrictions on civil liberties. It is generally declared because of a present or imminent danger arising from natural disaster or because of serious disturbances to law and order.

Fundamental guaranteesInternal disturbances and tensionsInternational humanitarian lawPublic orderSiegeSituations and persons not expressly covered by humanitarian law

For Additional Information: Fritzpatrick, Joan. Human Rights in Crisis: The International System for Protecting Rights during States of Emergency . Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

Gasser, Hans-Peter. “Humanitarian Standards for Internal Strife—A Brief Review of New Developments.” International Review of the Red Cross 294 (May–June 1993): 221–26.

Herczegh, Geza. “State of Emergency and Humanitarian Law—On Article 75 of Additional Protocol I.” International Review of the Red Cross 242 (September–October 1984): 251–62.

Olivier, Clémentine. “Human Rights Between War and Peace.” In The Essential Guide to Human Rights , edited by C. van den Anker, p. 157 and following. London: Hodder, 2004.

Oraà, Jaime. Human Rights in States of Emergency in International Law . Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

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