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Martial law – is a system of rules that take effect if the military takes control of the normal administration of justice.

It is sometimes imposed in response to civic emergencies or episodes of unrest or riots, or during wars or in cases of 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 1989marker); or to suppress the opposition (Poland in 1981). Another example would be The October Crisis which took place in Canada in October 1970. Martial law can be declared in cases of major natural disasters also; however most countries use a different legal construct, such as a "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 across the world


The War Measures Act was a Canadianmarker statute that allowed the government to assume sweeping emergency powers, stopping short of martial law, i.e. the military does not administer justice, which remains in the hands of the courts. The Act has been invoked three times: During World War I, World War II, and the October Crisis of 1970. In 1988, the War Measures Act was replaced by the Emergencies Act.

Prior to 1867, martial law was proclaimed and applied in the territory of the Province of Quebec during the invasion of Canada by the army of the American Continental Congress in 1775-1776. It was also applied twice in the territory of Lower Canada during the 1837-1838 insurrections.

On December 5, following the events of November 1837, martial law was proclaimed in the district of Montréal by Governor Gosford, without the support of the Legislative Assembly in the Parliament of Lower Canada. It was imposed until April 27, 1838.

It was proclaimed a second time on November 4, 1838, this time by acting Governor John Colborne, and was applied in the district of Montreal until August 24, 1839.


In Egypt, a State of Emergency has been in effect almost continuously since 1967. Following 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 it with new anti-terrorism laws, but after the Dahab bombings in April of that year, martial law was renewed for another two years. In May 2008 there was a further extension to June 2010.

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

Public demonstrations are banned under the legislation.


During the Easter Rising in 1916, Lord Wimborne, cousin of Winston Churchill and then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, declared martial law to maintain order in the streets of Dublinmarker. This was later extended both in duration and geographical reach to the whole of the country with the consent of the British government. Much of Ireland was declared under martial law by the British authorities during the Irish War of Independence. A large portion of Ireland was also under de facto martial law during the Irish Civil War.


Military administrative government was in effect from 1949 to 1966 over some geographical areas of Israelmarker having large Arab populations, primarily the Negevmarker, Galilee, and the Triangle. The residents of these areas were subject to a number of controlling measures that amounted to martial law. Permits from the military governor had to be procurred to travel more than a given distance from a person's registered place of residence, and curfew, administrative detentions, and expulsions were common. Although 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.

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 to 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.

Instructions of the Home Front Command are obligatory under martial law, rather than merely recommended. The order signed by Peretz was in effect for 48 hours and was extended by the Cabinet and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee over the war's duration.


Martial law has been declared in Pakistanmarker three times. 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.

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, Balochistanmarker. 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. Jamali 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 3, 2007, President General Pervez Musharraf declared the state of 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 Japanmarker) placed the Philippinesmarker 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 United Statesmarker and the United Kingdommarker. This took effect on September 23, 1944 at 10:00 am.

The country was under martial law again from 1972 to 1981 under the authoritarian rule of Ferdinand Marcos. 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 - exactly 28 years after similar proclamations by President Jose P. Laurel. Martial law was declared to suppress increasing civil strife and the threat of communist takeover following a series of bombings and a government-staged assassination attempt on then Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile in Manilamarker. The declaration of martial law was initially well-received by some sectors, but it eventually proved unpopular as excesses and human rights abuses by the military emerged, such as the use of torture as a method of extracting information. The well-known People Power Revolution of 1986 took place because of the many violated rights and abuse of authority of Marcos. The People Power Revolution eventually ousted Marcos, and he fled to Hawaiimarker where he died in exile in 1989.

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


Martial law was introduced in Communist Poland on December 13, 1981 by Generals Czesław Kiszczak and Wojciech Jaruzelski to prevent democratic opposition from gaining popularity and political power in the country. Thousands of people linked to democratic opposition, including Lech Wałęsa, were arbitrarily arrested and detained. About 100 deaths are attributed to the martial law, including 9 miners shot by the police during the pacification of striking Wujek Coal Minemarker. The martial law was lifted July 22, 1983. Polish society is divided in opinion on the necessity of introduction of the martial law, which is viewed as a lesser evil compared to alleged Sovietmarker military intervention. Generals' legal trials are still in progress after 25 years from the events.


There are no provisions for martial law as such in Switzerlandmarker. Under the Army Law of 1995 [8120], 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 Davosmarker). 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 [8121].


After the Republic of Chinamarker gained control of Taiwanmarker following World War II, the distinction of having the longest period of martial law in modern history was imposed on Taiwan. In the aftermath of the 2-28 Incident of 1947, martial law was declared in 1948. After the Kuomintang-led Republic of China government lost control of its possessions in mainland Asia to the Communist Party of China and retreated to Taiwan in 1949, the perceived need to suppress Communist activities in Taiwan meant that the martial law was not lifted until 1987.


In Thailandmarker many coups have taken place since the 1930s, but many have failed.In January 2004, the former Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, declared a state of martial law in the provinces of Pattanimarker, Yalamarker, and Narathiwatmarker 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 Thaimarker capital of Bangkokmarker, declared while The Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was in New Yorkmarker 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.


Since the foundation of the Republic of Turkeymarker in 1923 the military conducted three coup d'étas and announced martial law. Martial law between 1978 and 1983 was replaced by a State of emergency that lasted until November 2002.

FR Yugoslavia

During the Yugoslav Wars in 1991, it was declared "State of Direct War Threat". Although forces from whole SFRYmarker were included in this conflict, martial law was never announced, but after secession, Croatiamarker and Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker declared Martial law. In March 23, 1999,"State of Direct War Threat" was declared in Yugoslavia, following possibility of NATOmarker 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

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. On October 1, 2002 United States Northern Command was established to provide command and control of Department of Defense homeland defense efforts and to coordinate defense support of civil authorities..

On June 15, 1995, Norman Olson, along with militia leaders from other states, testified before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism. Olson's opening statement included the following:

One other important point needs to be made.
Since The Constitution is the limiting document upon the government, the government cannot become greater than the granting power.
That is, the
servant cannot become greater than its master. Therefore, should the chief executive or the other branchof government or all branches together act to suspend The Constitution under a rule of martial law, allpower granted to government would be cancelled and differed back to the granting power. That is the people.

And I'll conclude with this statement:

Martial law shall NOT be possible in this country as long as the people recognize the bill of rights as inalienable.

Ex parte Milligan

On September 15, 1863, President Lincoln imposed Congressionally-authorized martial law. The authorizing act allowed the President to suspend habeas corpus throughout the entire United States. Lincoln imposed the suspension on "prisoners of war, spies, or aiders and abettors of the enemy," as well as on other classes of people, such as draft dodgers. The President's proclamation was challenged in Ex parte Milligan, 71 US 2 [1866]). The Supreme Courtmarker ruled that Lincoln's imposition of martial law (by way of suspension of habeas corpus) was unconstitutional.

The National Guard is an exception, since unless federalized, they are under the control of state governors. This was changed briefly: 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 allowed 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 of operations or missions undertaken by the member's unit at the request of the President or Secretary of Defense."
 The President signed the Defense Authorization Act of 2008 on January 13, 2008. However, Section 1068 in the enacted 2008 defense authorization bill (H.R. 4986: "National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008") repealed this section of PL 109-364.

New Orleans, Louisiana in the War of 1812

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

The American Revolution

As a result of the Boston Tea Partymarker, King George III of Britain, ordered martial law in Boston to keep riots and protest down.

The Territory of Hawaii

During World War II (1939 to 1945) what is now the State of Hawaiimarker was held under martial law from December 7, 1941 to October 24, 1944.

Hurricane Katrina

Contrary to many media reports at the time, martial law was not declared in New Orleansmarker 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 didn't have to observe civil rights and Miranda rights in stopping the looters. 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.

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

Schenectady, New York

The city of Schenectady, New Yorkmarker, is – as of March 24, 2009 – considering disbanding its police force and declaring martial law until it can form a new police force. Mayor Brian Stratton is considering this move because the city's police department has been filled with corruption and slammed with allegations about its officers, ranging from drunk driving to battery. The mayor himself does not, however, have the power to declare martial law; this can be done only by Governor David Paterson. "It's a contrived scenario, but it's not beyond the realm of possibilities," the mayor said.

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