Reconstructing the Notion of State of Emergency
The George Washington International Law Review, vol. 52(1), 2020, 53-97
47 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2016 Last revised: 8 Apr 2021
Date Written: February 14, 2019
Public unrest, terrorist attacks, natural disasters and events of equal severity have in recent years prompted states to declare state of emergency. Sometimes, the proclamation of a public emergency is necessary or at least defendable, for example a natural disaster may call for special measures which could not be taken with full respect for all the obligations under human rights treaties. In other cases, public emergencies can be used as a smokescreen for repressive government policies. Once the necessity for derogation is conceded, it becomes difficult to control whether the suspension of rights amounts to abuse of power. Serious violations of human rights often accompany emergency situations.
This study first sets out an analytical framework which seeks to answer two questions: what is the role of the sovereign, i.e. the legislative and executive branches of Government? What do states perceive as threats and what consequences will that have for their policies. Next the legislative framework as provided for in human rights regimes is described. The analytical and legal framework is applied to five recent cases and phenomena: counterterrorism; Arab Spring; migration; Ebola outbreak in Western Africa and economic crises.
Keywords: State of Emergency; Arab Spring, Ebola; Terrorism; Securitization
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