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May 5, 2008

Wikipedia: Martial law

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Martial law is the system of rules that takes effect when the military takes control of the normal administration of justice.

Martial law is sometimes imposed during wars or occupations in the absence of any other civil government. Examples of this form of military rule include Germany and Japan after World War II or the American South during the early stages of Reconstruction. In addition it is used by governments to enforce their rule, for example after a coup d’état (Thailand 2006), when threatened by popular protests (Tiananmen Square protests of 1989), or to crack down on the opposition (Poland 1981). Martial law can also be declared in cases of major natural disasters, however most countries use a different legal construct like “state of emergency”.

In many countries martial law imposes particular rules, one of which is curfew. Often, under this system, the administration of justice is left to a military tribunal, called a court-martial. The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is likely to occur.


Martial law in other countries


Martial law was first used in Australia from midnight Sunday 4 March, 1804 during the Castle Hill convict rebellion, also known as the second Battle of Vinegar Hill, a reference to the Irish engagement of 1798 in which many of the convicts had previously been involved. The militia were called out under the auspices of posse comitatus to assist in suppressing the rebelling convicts. Martial law was then lifted.


Though the Canadian government has never actually imposed martial law, it has come close through a piece of legislation known as the War Measures Act. This act was invoked three times, in both world wars due to riots over conscription (the Conscription Crisis of 1917 and Conscription Crisis of 1944) and in the October Crisis of 1970, which resulted in 1628 raids and 200 subsequent arrests. The War Measures Act technically does not invoke martial law, as the military does not take over the administration of justice. A better comparison would be to declaring a State of Emergency. Indeed, the War Measures Act was later replaced by the Emergencies Act in 1988.

Prior to Confederation, martial law was proclaimed and applied on the territory that would later become the Province of Quebec during the American invasion in 1775-1776, and on the territory of Lower Canada during the insurrections of 1837-1838. On December 5, following the events of November 1837, martial law was proclaimed in the district of Montreal by the Parliament of Lower Canada. It remained in force until April 27, 1838. Martial law was proclaimed a second time on November 4, 1838 and was applied until August 24, 1839.[1][2]

People’s Republic of China (Mainland China)

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China grants the President of the People’s Republic of China the power to declare martial law in pursuance of a decision of the National People’s Congress to declare martial law. In 1989, President Yang Shangkun unilaterally invoked the martial law clause to allow the military to stage a crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters. The legality of this action, in the absence of a previous decision by the NPC, has been questioned, and in 2004 the clause was finally weakened into a provision that allowed the government to simply declare a State of Emergency. Martial law was declared in November 2004 to quell ethnic clashes in Langchenggang, Henan province.


In Egypt, a State of Emergency has been imposed almost continuously since 1967. Due to the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat in 1981, martial law was declared. Egypt has been under martial law ever since – the Parliament has renewed the emergency laws every three years since they were imposed. The legislation was last extended in 2003 and was due to expire at the end of May 2006; plans were in place to replace them with new anti-terrorism laws but after the Dahab bombings in April martial law was renewed for another two years. [1] [2]

Martial law allows the government to detain anyone deemed to be threatening state security for renewable 45-day periods without court orders and also give military courts the power to try civilians.

Public demonstrations are banned under the legislation.


Martial law in India is different from rest of the world. According to the Indian Constitution, during peacetime, governmental and the people’s interests are under the control of the Prime Minister, Parliament, and the Supreme Court, but all armed forces (except police, which are under the control of the Home Ministry) are under the direct control of the Department of Defense and the President (who also controls the national guard and paramilitary forces). In case of a non-environmental crisis, all armed forces, national guard, and paramilitary forces, along with the Department of Defense, come under the strict orders of the President; while police, home ministry, justice department, and government comes under strict control of the Prime Minister (without any intervention by Parliament and the Supreme Court). In such a crisis, solving an issue/problem, stabilizing the nation, and defense are considered higher priorities than the people’s interest.

In case of an environmental crisis, the Indian government declares states of emergency, in which the emergency relief forces of the Indian Armed Forces, the National Guard, and the police come under the strict control of the President of India.

So far, Indian government declared State of Emergency in the following times:-

  1. 1919 – After General Reginald Dyer fires upon a crowd of protesters, where 379 are killed, Martial Law is declared throughout Punjab.
  2. 1975 – Indira Gandhi declares state of emergency.
  3. 1984 December – Gas leak at Union Carbide pesticides plant in Bhopal. Thousands are killed immediately, many more subsequently die or are left disabled.
  4. 1999 October – Cyclone devastates eastern state of Orissa, leaving at least 10,000 dead.
  5. 2001 January – Massive earthquakes hit the western state of Gujarat, leaving at least 30,000 dead.
  6. 2004 December – Thousands are killed when tidal waves, caused by a powerful undersea earthquake off the Indonesian coast, devastate coastal communities in the south and in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  7. 2005 July – More than 1,000 people are killed in floods and landslides caused by monsoon rains in Mumbai (Bombay) and Maharashtra region.
  8. 2005 8 October – An earthquake, with its epicenter in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, kills more than 1,000 people in Indian-administered Kashmir.

NOTE:- Indian government declares state of emergency during any crisis that is administered as terrorist activity.

  1. 2003 August – At least 50 people are killed in two simultaneous bomb blasts in Bombay. Also, bombs kill 62 people in Delhi.
  2. 2006 14 people are killed by bomb blasts in the Hindu pilgrimage city of Varanasi.
  3. 2006 May – Suspected Islamic militants kill 35 Hindus in the worst attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir for several months.
  4. 2006 11 July – More than 180 people are killed in bomb attacks on rush-hour trains in Mumbai. Investigators blame Islamic militants based in Pakistan.
  5. 2006 8 September – Explosions outside a mosque in the western town of Malegaon kill at least 31 people.
  6. 2007 18 February – 68 passengers, most of them Pakistanis, are killed by bomb blasts and a blaze on a train traveling from New Delhi to the Pakistani city of Lahore.

For further reading please browse through BBC Archives in South Asia section, relating to India.[3]


Military administrative government was in effect from 1949 to 1966 over some geographical areas of Israel, which had large Arab populations, primarily the Negev, Galilee, and the Triangle. The residents of these areas were subject to a number of controlling measures that amounted to martial law.[4][5] Permits from the military governor had to be procured to travel more than a given distance from their registered place of residence and curfew, administrative detentions, and expulsions were common.[4] Though the military administration was officially for geographical areas, and not people, its restrictions were seldom enforced on the Jewish residents of these areas. In the 1950s, martial law ceased to be in effect for those Arab citizens living in predominantly-Jewish cities, but remained in place in all Arab localities within Israel until 1966.[4]

During the 2006 Lebanon war, martial law was declared by Defense Minister Amir Peretz over the North of the country. The Israel Defense Forces were granted the authority to issue instructions to civilians, and close down offices, schools, camps and factories in cities considered under threat of attack, as well as to impose curfews on cities in the North.[6] Instructions of the Home Front Command are obligatory under martial law, rather than merely recommendatory.[6] The order signed by Peretz was in effect for 48 hours.[6] It was extended by the Cabinet and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee over the war’s duration.[citation needed]


Martial law has been declared in Pakistan three times, though two times enforced under the name of “state of emergency”, by Musharraf, as constitution was suspended. In the first instance President Iskander Mirza abrogated the Constitution in 1958 and declared Martial Law over the country. The second instance was when General Yahya Khan declared martial law in March, 1969 after Mirza’s successor, General Ayub Khan handed over power to him. the 3rd by Gen Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Another debatable instance was when General Pervez Musharraf declared two times in the country “State of Emergency” once to topple Nawaz Sharif and other under thr self-created grounds i.e. mounting militant attacks and “interference by members of the judiciary”. See 2007 Pakistani state of emergency for more information.

After several tumultuous years, which witnessed the secession of East Pakistan, politician Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over in 1971 as the first civilian martial law administrator in recent history, imposing selective martial law in areas hostile to his rule, such as the country’s largest province, Balochistan. Following widespread civil disorder, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq overthrew Bhutto and imposed martial law in its totality on July 5, 1977 in a bloodless coup d’etat. Unstable areas were brought under control through indirect military action, such as Balochistan under Martial Law Governor, General Rahimuddin Khan. Civilian government resumed in 1988 following General Zia’s death in an aircraft crash.

On October 12, 1999, the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was dissolved, and the Army took control once more. But no Martial Law was imposed. General Pervez Musharraf took the title of Chief Executive until the President Rafiq Tarar resigned and General Musharraf became President. Elections were held in October 2002 and Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali became Prime Minister. Jamili premiership was followed by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Shaukat Aziz. While the government was supposed to be run by the elected Prime Minister, there was a common understanding that important decisions were made by the President General Parvez Musharraf.

On November 03, 2007, President General Pervez Musharraf declared the state emergency in the country which is claimed to be equivalent to the state of Martial Law as the constitution of Pakistan of 1973, was suspended, and the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court were fired.

On November 12, 2007, President General Pervez Musharraf issued some amendments in the Military Act, which gave the Armed forces some additional powers.


President Jose P. Laurel of the wartime Second Republic (puppet-government under Japan) placed the Philippines under martial law in 1944 through Proclamation No. 29, dated September 21. Martial law came into effect on September 22, 1944 at 9am. Proclamation No. 30 was issued the next day, declaring the existence of a state of war between the Philippines and the US and Great Britain. This took effect on September 23, 1944 at 10am.

The Philippines was under martial law again from 1972 to 1981 under the authoritarian rule of Ferdinand Marcos. Martial law was declared to suppress increasing civil strife and the threat of communist takeover following a series of bombings in Manila. The declaration of martial law was initially well-received by some segment of the people but became unpopular as excesses and human rights abuses by the military emerged. Torture was used in extracting information from their enemies. Proclamation No. 1081 (Proclaiming a State of Martial Law in the Philippines) was signed on September 21, 1972 and came into force on September 22 – interestingly enough exactly 28 years after President Jose P. Laurel’s similar proclamations.

There were rumours that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was planning to impose martial law to put an end to military coup plotters and general civilian dissatisfaction and criticism of the legitimacy of her presidency due to dubious election results. Instead, however, a “State of National Emergency” was imposed to crush a coup plot and tackle protesters which lasted from February 24, 2006 until March 3 of the same year.


Main article: Martial law in Poland

Martial law was introduced in Poland by the Communist government on December 13, 1981 to prevent democratic movements from gaining popularity and political power in the country, and to reduce the risk of Soviet intervention.


There are no provisions for martial law as such in Switzerland. Under the Army Law of 1995 [3], the Army can be called upon by cantonal (state) authorities for assistance (Assistenzdienst). This regularly happens in the case of natural disasters or special protection requirements (e.g., for the World Economic Forum in Davos). This assistance generally requires parliamentary authorization, though, and takes place in the regular legal framework and under the civilian leadership of the cantonal authorities. On the other hand, the federal authorities are authorized to use the Army to enforce law and order when the Cantons no longer can or want to do so (Ordnungsdienst). This power largely fell into disuse after World War II. See [4].

Republic of China (Taiwan)

After the Kuomintang (KMT) regime of the Republic of China (ROC) retreated from mainland China to Taiwan, the distinction of having the longest period of martial law in modern history was imposed on Taiwan and the other islands administered by the Republic of China. In the aftermath of the 2-28 Incident of 1947, martial law was declared in 1948, and the perceived need to suppress Communist and pro-democracy activities on the island meant that the martial law was not lifted until 1987.


In Thailand many coups have taken place since the 1930s, but many have failed. In January of 2004, the former Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, declared a state of martial law in the provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat in response to the growing South Thailand insurgency. On September 19, 2006, Thailand’s Army declared martial law following a bloodless military coup in the Thai capital of Bangkok, declared while The Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was in New York to address the United Nations General Assembly. General Sonthi Boonyaratglin took the control of the Government, and soon after handed the premiership to Ex-Army Chief General Surayud. Sonthi himself is Chief of the Administrative Reform Council.

FR Yugoslavia

During the Yugoslav Wars in 1991, it was declared “State of Direct War Treat”. Although forces from whole SFRY were included in this conflict, martial law was never announced, but after secession, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina declared Martial law. In March 23, 1999, “State of Direct War Treat” was declared in Yugoslavia, following possibility of NATO air-strikes. Day after, when strikes had begun, Martial law has been declared, and it had duration until June 15, that year, although strikes ended on June 10, following Kumanovo agreement.

United States of America

See also: Suspension clause

The martial law concept in the U.S. is closely tied with the right of habeas corpus, which is in essence the right to a hearing on lawful imprisonment, or more broadly, the supervision of law enforcement by the judiciary. The ability to suspend habeas corpus is often equated with martial law. Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution states, “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.”

In United States law, martial law is limited by several court decisions that were handed down between the American Civil War and World War II. In 1878, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids military involvement in domestic law enforcement without congressional approval. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 possibly rescinds these limits by suspending habeas corpus, but the law is not clear on whether it applies to U.S. Citizens. Since, USNORTHCOM [5] has increased its direct involvement with civilian administration.

The National Guard is an exception, since unless federalized, they are under the control of state governors. [6]. This has now changed. Public Law 109-364, or the “John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007” (H.R.5122), was signed by President Bush on October 17, 2006, and allows the President to declare a “public emergency” and station troops anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities. Title V, Subtitle B, Part II, Section 525(a) of the JWDAA of 2007 reads “The [military] Secretary [of the Army, Navy or Air Force] concerned may order a member of a reserve component under the Secretary’s jurisdiction to active duty…The training or duty ordered to be performed…may include…support of operations or missions undertaken by the member’s unit at the request of the President or Secretary of Defense.” [7] The President vetoed the Defense Authorization Act of 2008 on December 27, 2007.A provision in the 2008 defense authorization bill would have repealed this section of PL 109-364. [8]

New Orleans, Louisiana in the War of 1812

During the War of 1812, U.S. General Andrew Jackson imposed martial law in New Orleans, Louisiana after capturing the encampment of New Orleans from the British in the Battle of New Orleans.

The Territory of Hawaii

During World War II (1939 to 1945) what is now the State of Hawaii was held under martial law from 1941 to 1945.

Hurricane Katrina

Contrary to many media reports at the time, martial law was not declared in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, because no such term exists in Louisiana state law. However, a State of Emergency was declared, which does give unique powers to the state government similar to those of martial law. On the evening of August 31, 2005, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin nominally declared “martial law” and said that officers don’t have to worry about civil rights and Miranda rights in stopping the looters. [9] Federal troops were a common sight in New Orleans after Katrina. At one point, as many as 15,000 federal troops and National Guardsmen patrolled the city. Additionally it has been reported that armed contractors from Blackwater USA assisted in policing the city.[10]

See also “What Is Martial Law? And is New Orleans under it?” by the Slate Explainer.

See also

  • Authoritarianism
  • Military law (law to which members of the military are subject)
  • Military rule
  • State of emergency
  • Martial law in Poland
  • Chief Martial Law Administrator
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