What We Should Know About the Declaration of a State of Emergency

18 March, 2020


A number of countries have declared a state of emergency, instituted a quarantine and limited various human rights as a response to the outbreak of the coronavirus.[1]A state of emergency provides the state with more opportunities to resolve the crisis in a short period of time. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that a state of emergency is a temporary measure and that all activities undertaken therein should be proportionate to the threat.

Get to know which rights can be limited during a state of emergency and the latest established international practices in this regard.

When and how is a state of emergency declared?

A state of emergency is a temporary measure that is declared by the President of Georgia, upon recommendation by the Prime Minister, in the interests of ensuring the security of the citizens of Georgia during war or mass disorder, encroachment upon the territorial integrity of the country, military coups and armed insurrections, ecological disasters and outbreaks of epidemic, natural calamities. The President of Georgia should immediately notify the Parliament of Georgia of the order to declare of a state of emergency. If the Parliament of Georgia does not approve the order, the state of emergency is deemed cancelled.

Which citizens’ rights can be limited during a state of emergency?

During a state of emergency, the rights of citizens may be limited or suspended in accordance with the constitution and the law. However, this doesn’t happen automatically with the declaration of the state of emergency; the President needs to issue additional decrees upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Decrees that limit or suspend human rights guaranteed by the Constitution are submitted to the Parliament for approval.

How is the freedom of movement restricted?

If necessary, the President may issue a decree that restricts the right of free movement of citizens and prohibits them from leaving their places of residence or other places of accommodation without an appropriate permit. Moreover, a curfew may be imposed and citizens may be restricted from staying on the streets or in other public places, and from going outside their household premises without official permits and identity documents. Those who are placed under quarantine, or other potentially high-risk individuals, can have their rights of movement restricted for a specific period of time and they may be ordered to undergo self-isolation. During a state of emergency, the Ministry of Internal Affairs enforces the decision for placing a person in isolation and/or in quarantine. The decision to use military forces is made by the President upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

International practice as of today

The right to freedom of movement has been restricted in a number of countries: On March 14, the government of Spain declared a 15-day state of emergency as a measure to fight the coronavirus. All of the residents in Spain have been ordered to stay home except to go to work or to exercise, buy food supplies or go to the drug store. In Italy, residents should not leave their homes except to work, for health reasons or for other needs such as purchasing essential goods. A person who leaves their residence must be able to provide proof that they are doing so for one of the aforementioned reasons. The authenticity of these statements may be checked by the police and providing a false statement is considered a crime. In the Czech Republic, residents are banned from heading out to gyms, swimming pools, wellness services and saunas, as well as to public libraries and galleries. Schools and university studies have also been cancelled.

How can the right of assembly be limited?

It is possible to prohibit the arrangement of gatherings, meetings, street processions and demonstrations, as well as entertainment, sports and other mass actions, as well as the arrangement of strikes.

International practice as of today

In the Czech Republic, as of March 13, 2020, all public and private cultural, sporting, social, religious, educational and other events involving more than 30 persons at any one time have been banned. As part of the measures undertaken to curb the outbreak of the coronavirus, the Government of Austria has banned the assembly of more than 5 persons at any one time.

How can property, business and labor rights be restricted?

It is possible to establish a special regime of operation of state and private enterprises, institutions and organizations, to restrict the freedom of professional unions, to use the resources of state enterprises, institutions and organizations for the prevention and elimination of the consequences of the state of emergency, and also utilize, for the same purposes, the property and material means owned by other natural and legal persons, only in exchange for relevant compensation that shall be issued after the end of the state of emergency.

International practice as of today

In several countries, a number of restrictions have been imposed on businesses. For example, all bars, restaurants and cafes were closed after the declaration of the state of emergency in Spain, however the businesses are allowed to provide home delivery services. In Italy, shops, bars, restaurants, beauty centers and other such establishments were closed.  In the Czech Republic, the use of taxi services (Uber, Bolt) have been restricted, with an exception for the purpose of delivering food supplies or electronics. Other traditional taxi companies are allowed to continue their operations, but they may do so only for the purposes of transport of persons travelling in accordance with the purposes of the quarantine.

How can the inviolability of private and family life and of personal space and communication be restricted?

It is possible to check documents at locations of mass gatherings of citizens, and where there are relevant grounds, arrange personal searches of citizens, and search their personal property and vehicles, and to introduce special rules for using communications facilities;

International practice as of today

Such measures have not been introduced in the United States or countries in Europe that have declared a state of emergency.

How can the freedom of opinion, information, mass media and internet be restricted?

According to the law, it is possible to impose control over means of mass media.

International practice as of today

Such measures have not been introduced in the United States or countries in Europe that have declared a state of emergency. These restrictions may be imposed only in exceptional circumstances.

During a state of emergency, the decision to restrict any right should be substantiated and should be proportional and necessary.

It is worth nothing that in case of the declaration of a state of emergency, deliberations on a draft constitutional law are suspended until the state of emergency has been revoked.


[1] A state of emergency has been declared in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus in the United States of America and a number of European countries, including Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Latvia, Spain and Switzerland.