On August4, 2020 a massive explosion hit Beirut, Lebanon, caused by more than 2, 700 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound that is commonly used as both an agriculture fertilizer and in making explosives generally used for mining. The chemical had been stored in the Port of Beirut at a warehouse without the proper safety measures for the past 6 years, which eventually resulted in the tragedy, leaving to date more than 220 deaths, 6,000 wounded and more than 200 individuals who are still missing. The investigation of the incident is set to begin soon, involving several foreign interferences. However, the Lebanese people have expressed their anger towards the Lebanese government, accusing it of negligence and corruption, leading to the government’s resignation. On August 13, 2020 the State of Lebanon saw the need to declare the state of emergency in the city of Beirut and granting authority to the Military. What does that mean and where does it leave Lebanon? This piece will focus on the definition of the state of emergency, what it entitles and what its repercussions are.
What is a state of emergency?
A state of emergency is derived from a governmental declaration, which essentially permits the government to draft policies and follow certain strategies in which it wouldn’t usually do in its normal course of action. This is done under the title of protecting and preserving the safety of their citizens.
A state of emergency has been historically declared after a natural disaster, civil unrest, and armed conflict. However, it is also used for the purpose of suspending certain rights and freedoms under a country’s constitution. Even under international law, a country’s rights and freedoms may be suspended during a state of emergency, albeit the latter is dependent on the severity of the emergency.
That being said, democratic states deal with the state of emergency based on the threat caused to the general public. Here are some examples of how governments may deal with situational crisis:
- A government may impose a Martial law, which is when a military force is imposed within a Sovereign state for instance.
- A government may declare state of siege when civil rights are being curtailed.
- A government may declare a civil emergency when it is dealing with disastrous events such natural disasters or malicious property damage. A military force is typically accompanied with a civil emergency to prevent dangerous settings.
With the above being mentioned, it is important to note that a state of emergency can be invoked when the state suppresses internal opposition while violating human rights.
Powers proclaimed in a state of emergency
Now that the Lebanese parliament has approved the state of emergency, placing Beirut under a military power, here are some of the actions in which the government has the authority to conduct:
- Expand jurisdiction of the military court over civilians for crimes related to breach of security.
- Close spaces of assembly.
- Set curfews at particular times.
- Prohibit gatherings deemed to threated security.
- Censor publications, radio, television and theater productions.
- Impose house arrest on anyone engaging in activities considered as security threats.
- Enter homes at any time.
- Impose fines and deport suspects.
This state of emergency shall act as a legal system to face exceptional circumstances. The supreme military authority shall be responsible for maintaining security and all armed forces, that is, internal security forces, public security, customs and armed forces personnel in ports, airports, police stations, armed guard units and their detachments, including firefighters, shall be placed at their disposal.
The role of the judicial system
Regardless of any situation, the judicial system should always commit to and ensure the right to fair trial. There is always a possibility that government officials may conduct some human rights violations and therefore the judiciary must provide individuals with an effective means of recourse. The independence of the judiciary should be guaranteed prior to undertaking proceedings before a court for the lawfulness of the emergency measures as the courts play a major and critical role in taking decisions related to the legality of declaring a state of emergency and its measures.
The role of civil society
Declaring a state of emergency puts a massive amount of pressure on both the state and the society. For that reason, it is very important that the government tries to cooperate with its citizens in times of crises. Any human right violation will make cooperating with one another harder and only make it more difficult to surmount the emergency situation.