Document Type


Publication Date

January 1986


The role that the law can play in the regulation of states of emergency is of enormous consequence to the Western hemisphere. The importance of these emergency situations, also referred to as states of exception or states of siege, lies in both the frequency with which American states resort to them and in the dangers that they pose to the exercise of human rights. Because serious human rights violations ordinarily accompany emergency situations, the declaration of a state of siege has come to be a warning signal for those who seek to protect those human rights. Such protection often depends heavily on international law. A number of international treaties establish guidelines regulating emergency situations. A regional treaty, the American Convention on Human Rights, provides a legal framework for states of siege within the Western hemisphere. This treaty regulates the assertion of emergency powers by any state party to it. Since the adoption of the convention, however, there has been no comprehensive analysis of its provision on states of emergency. After a general consideration of the significance and effects of emergency situations and an analysis of the role that international law can play in their regulation, this article will examine emergency situations under the American Convention's actual language, its drafting history, and the extensive body of jurisprudence developed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a major supervisory organ for all state members of the O.A.S. Systematic criteria will be proposed to assess the validity of states of siege under the American Convention. This article will outline tests which states must satisfy, first in declaring states of emergency, and second in placing restrictions on human rights during such emergencies. Finally, it will offer suggestions for further enhancing the supervisory role of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in states of emergency.

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