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Emergency, War and International Law – Another Perspective

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This article evaluates a spectrum of emergency responses by states. We are interested in exploring the variety of contexts in which states respond to internal and external crisis, and the manner in which international law contextualises and responds to the use of extreme measures by states. While international lawyers have become attuned to the prerogatives of states in derogating from their international human rights treaty obligations, we contend that this constitutes only one aspect of state emergency responses. We explore the extent to which states resort to extra-ordinary measures in multiple ways. In particular, we explore the relationship between war and emergency, from a theoretical point of view. Both classic inter-state conflicts are examined, as are the multiple situations of internal armed conflict, that frequently escape precise legal definition under international law. We take the view that international law has taken a limited and unrepresentative view of the scope and breadth of the emergency phenomena in state practice. From this general position some general observations follow. First, we identify the tendency of legal scholars to assert that clear dichotomies exist between normal and extreme conditions, when such clear-cut distinctions are not present. From this, we argue that `war' and `emergency', are not unique and entirely distinct phenomena. In short, we submit that emergency and its associated practices is a far more wide-spread and pervasive aspect of state experience and action than has generally been accepted by legal scholars and political thinkers. The consequence of this rethinking is a need to redefine the resort to the extraordinary in our perception of state behaviour and to modify our theoretical perspectives accordingly.

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Law, Tel-Aviv University, Israel; 2: School of Public Policy, Economics and Law, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland


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