What is Martial Law?

If you are interested in geopolitics then you must have heard of countries imposing Martial Law at the time of an emergency. Usually, this law is imposed when the civil government is ineffective to manage law and order in the country. Martial Law is a law in which the military commander of a country or a particular area gets authority to make and enforce laws.

Martial law is an extreme and rare measure to control the country. It is used only in the case of emergencies like war, civilian unrest, etc. Go through this post to know and understand what is Martial Law, in which situation it is used, and which countries have exercised it so far?

Latest Update: The current president of Ukraine Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy declared martial law on February 24, 2022 and urged people to stay home and not to get panic. According to Mr. President, Russia started a new military operation against Ukraine and therefore the martial law is declared.

What is a Martial Law?

The definition of Martial Law varies according to different countries. Still, we can say that it is a temporary imposition of direct military control of normal civil function and suspension of civil government. During Martial Law, civil laws made by the government is revoked and the military has full control for a temporary period. Such a law is imposed in response to a temporary emergency where civil forces are overwhelmed, or when the government is under the occupation of another country.

Objectives of Martial Law

As mentioned earlier, militaries around the world use this law for the enforcement of law and order in the country when civil government fails to do so. Here are some objectives of the Imposition of Martial Law in various countries.

  • To enforce the rule of the military over the general public in case of popular public protest.
  • Enforcing the control of the military over the country in case of a conflict with another country. For example – In a recent conflict with Azerbaijan, Martial law is imposed in Armenia.
  • To manage the unstable population of the country in case of an absence of the civil government. For example – martial law was enforced in countries like Germany and Japan when they lost in World War 2.

Characteristics of Martial Law/ What happens during a martial law?

The characteristics of Martial Law depends upon the country for which we are talking about. Still, you can check the following points to understand the general situation under this rule.

  • Military commanders who are not elected officials get the authority to make laws.
  • Soldiers of the army get the responsibility of enforcing the law instead of the police.
  • Those civilians who got accused of defying martial law get to face the military tribunals instead of a civilian court.
  • The parliament of the country is suspended. In addition to this, martial law also suspends all existing laws as well as civil authority and other ordinary administration of justice.
  • Some countries impose martial laws more often than others. For example – the USA has imposed martial law roughly 68 times the United States was founded in the year 1776. On the other hand, Martial law is never imposed in India after independence.

Use of Martial Law in Recent Times

Let’s take a look at some recent incidences where Martial Law is imposed in different countries around the world.

Country When Martial Law is imposedWho imposed the law and why?
ArmeniaSeptember 2020Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan imposed this law during Nagorno-Karabakh clashes.
Indonesia18th May 2003 President, Indonesian Army Chief imposed martial law to eliminate the Acehnese separatists.
Philippines23rd May 2017President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law due to the attack of Maute Group in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
Poland13th December 1981General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed this law to prevent democratic opposition from gaining popularity.
Ukraine24th February 2022


28th November 2018

February 24, 2022: President Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy declared martial law as Russia started a new military operation against the state.


President Petro Poroshenko’s imposed martial law as a result of firing upon and seizure of Ukrainian naval ships by Russia.

United StatesDecember 1941The United States Martial law was imposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to attack pearl harbour
YugoslaviaMarch 1999Martial law was declared following the possibility of a NATO airstrike
TurkeyJuly 15 2016Martial law was imposed by the peace at home council during 2016 Turkish coup.
Pakistan3rd November 2007President General Musharraf declared the state of emergency in the country which is claimed to be equivalent to the state of martial law.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is there any incident of the misuse of Martial Law?

Yes, many a time, governments misuse this law to suppress the opposition. For example – General Wojciech of Jaruzelski imposed martial law to prevent the democratic opposition from gaining popularity.

When was Martial Law imposed in India after independence?

Martial Law is never imposed in India after independence.

Can the military arrest a politician during the Martial Law?

Yes, the military commander has control over the country during Martial Law. He can also order the arrest of an elected politician during this law. We have seen many military dictators around the world who get the elected minister arrested even executed.

Is curfew is also imposed along with Martial law?

Not necessarily. The imposition of martial law is also accompanied by a curfew in most of the cases. In simple language, we can say that the imposition of martial law is the extension of military law or military justice to civilians. It differs for various countries.

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