Saturday, 19 March 2011

Use and viewpoints

Though fairly uncommon in democracies, dictatorial regimes often declare a state of emergency that is prolonged indefinitely for the life of the regime[citation needed]. In some situations, martial law is also declared, allowing the military greater authority to act. In other situations, emergency is not declared and de facto measures taken or decree-law adopted by the government. Ms. Nicole Questiaux (France) and Mr. Leandro Despouy (Argentina), two consecutive United Nations Special Rapporteurs have therefore recommended to the international community to adopt the following "principles" to be observed during a state or de facto situation of emergency : Principles of Legality, Proclamation, Notification, Time Limitation, Exceptional Threat, Proportionality, Non-Discrimination, Compatibility, Concordance and Complementarity of the Various Norms of International Law . (cf: "Question of Human Rights and State of Emergency", E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/19, at Chapter II; see also at "état d'exception" )

Article 4 to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), permits states to derogate from certain rights guaranteed by the ICCPR in "time of public emergency". Any measures derogating from obligations under the Covenant, 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. The European and American Conventions on Human Rights have similar derogatory provisions. No derogation is permitted to the International Labour Conventions.

Some political theorists, such as Carl Schmitt, have argued that the power to decide the initiation of the state of emergency defines sovereignty itself. In State of Exception (2005), Giorgio Agamben criticized this idea, arguing that the mechanism of the state of emergency deprives certain people of their civil and political rights, producing his interpretation of homo sacer.[2]

The state of emergency can be abused by being invoked, for example, to allow a state to suppress internal opposition without having to respect human rights. An example was the August 1991 attempted coup in the Soviet Union (USSR) where the coup leaders invoked a state of emergency; the failure of the coup led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Derogations by states having ratified or acceeded to binding international agreements such as the ICCPR, the American and European Conventions on Human Rights and the International Labour Conventions are monitored by independent expert committees, regional Courts and other State Parties.

India too has gone through a state of emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi amidst allegations of a rigged election. The emergency saw prominent opposition leaders being dumped into prisons and the world's largest democracy become a dictatorship. Ever since then, parliamentarians in India have made it constitutionally difficult to deploy the state of emergency law via numerous amendments to the Constitution. However, State of Emergency or President's rule (as its commonly referred to in India) is still abused by the Central government to seize power in various States where elections have probably not ended up in the ruling party's favor. This different type of abuse of the law is still a subject of widespread debate amongst Indian intelligentsia as well as politicians.

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