What is a state of emergency?

In a state of emergency, a government has the authority to execute certain actions that it's not normally permitted to perform.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Published: March 6, 2018 4:31:40 pm
What is a state of emergency? Sri Lanka’s Special Task Force and Police officers stand guard near a burnt house after a clash between two communities in Digana, central district of Kandy, Sri Lanka March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Sri Lanka on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for 10 days after violent clashes broke out between Buddhists and minority Muslims in the country’s central Kandy district. At least two persons were dead in the violence that erupted on Monday following which police imposed curfew in the Theldeniya area. Tension has been on the rise between the two communities in the island country over the past year with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcibly converting people to Islam and vandalising Buddhist archaeological sites.

As per Reuters, the unrest in the Sri Lanka’s Kandy started on Sunday after the funeral of a truck driver from the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community who died days after he was involved in an altercation with four Muslims. It was not immediately clear why the initial altercation occurred but after the driver’s funeral on Monday, a Sinhalese mob attacked Muslim shops, police said, adding that the body of a Muslim youth was found in a burnt-out house early on Tuesday. Read: Sri Lanka declares state of emergency for 10 days after Buddhist-Muslim clash

What is a state of emergency?

In a state of emergency, a government has the authority to execute certain actions that it’s not normally permitted to perform. A particular government can invoke a state of emergency during civil unrest, a disaster, or an armed conflict. In this situation, the government directs its institutions to implement emergency action plans. Sometimes, a state of emergency can be imposed by governments as a pretext for suspending civil rights and freedoms as enshrined under a country’s Constitution. In certain cases, the emergency may be used by the state to also suppress internal dissension without any respect to basic human rights. How it is executed legally varies across the world.

What rights and freedoms are suspended during emergency?

During a state of emergency people can be detained without a reason and their fundamental rights and freedoms may be suspended temporarily. In accordance to international law, there are some rights that can be derogated and these have been listed under International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a United Nations body. However, there are other non-derogable rights that cannot be suspended under the state of emergency. These are listed under Article 4 of the ICCPR, such as right to life, freedom from torture or degrading treatment or punishment, and the rights to freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty and freedom of slavery. 

What does the ICCPR states on state of emergency?

The ICCPR, a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), came into force from March 23, 1976. It states, “In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin.”

More importantly, the ICCPR is an international law document signed by various states, which is why it is applicable to only those persons acting in an official capacity, and does not extend to private individuals. The signatories to the Covenant are, however, expected to bring the law into national legislation.

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