On 5 August 2020, in the wake of the port explosion, the Council of Ministers declared a state of emergency in Beirut. The Legal Agenda opposes this move for four reasons:
The General Mobilization Already Allows the State to Perform the Functions Needed to Address the Disaster
A “general mobilization” is already in effect across the country until 30 August 2020. It allows the state to exercise the extraordinary powers that the disaster necessitates, such as taking control of sources of energy and regulating its distribution; taking control of raw materials, industrial production, and supplies and regulating their import, storage, export, and distribution; regulating and monitoring transport, movement, and communications; and requisitioning personnel and funds, and compelling legal and natural persons to provide services, without impinging on public freedoms.
These powers, if used effectively, would allow the state to organize the operation to rescue the victims – especially those still under the debris [at the time of writing], whose fate remains unknown – and to aid and evacuate the affected population and clear the debris more efficiently. However, the people controlling the Lebanese state and its apparatuses have, as always, shirked away from their responsibilities even though this catastrophe was caused by their own criminal dereliction. They have left the burden of addressing its effects almost entirely to the initiative of volunteers and survivors without securing even rudimentary safety conditions for them.
The Declaration Leads to Militarization of Authority and Unjustified Restriction of Public Freedoms
In practice, this declaration of a state of emergency, albeit partial (i.e. restricted to Beirut), hands the reins of power in the city to the army and impinges on the freedoms to assemble and protest. This move is unjustified because, firstly, the disaster has not – at least so far – been accompanied by any security threat. Secondly, since October 17, the country – particularly the capital – has been witnessing an uprising against the ruling system, and the bloodshed in Beirut and destruction throughout its quarters has rejuvenated this uprising.
The emergency law allows the military authority to requisition persons, animals, things, and property; search homes at daytime or nighttime; impose fines, deport suspects, define “defensive regions” and “regions on guard” where residency is subject to a certain system; place people whose activities threaten security under house arrest and take the necessary measures to secure their livelihood and the livelihood of their families; prohibit gatherings that disrupt security; order cinemas, theatres, cafes, and all the various places of congregation to close temporarily; impose a curfew on people and vehicles in places and timeframes specified by a decision; and ban publications that disrupt security and censor newspapers, printed materials, publications, radio stations, television, films, and plays.
The Declaration of a State of Emergency (Albeit Partial) Strengthens the Military Court’s Powers to Try Civilians
The law allows the Supreme Military Authority to refer crimes “against state security, the Constitution, and public safety and security” to the military court without explaining any of these loose terms. Making matters worse, the military court’s jurisdiction in this regard is universal: these “crimes” are referred to it “even if they occur outside the region where the state of emergency is declared”. Moreover, the court continues examining the crimes that have been referred to it even after the state of emergency is lifted.
The Declaration Decree Remains Unpublished
The decree declaring the state of emergency remains unpublished, which raises questions about its period of effectiveness and renders all decisions adopted based on it liable to be challenged.
Keywords: State of emergency, Beirut, Military court