Martial Law Definition

Learn about the definition, history, characteristics, examples, case studies, and statistics of martial law. Understand the implications of military control during times of emergency.

Understanding Martial Law

Martial law is a term that is often used but not always fully understood. In essence, martial law is the imposition of military control over designated regions or the entire country in times of emergency. This means that normal civil laws are suspended, and military authorities take over the functions of civilian government. Martial law is typically declared during times of war, natural disasters, or civil unrest.

History of Martial Law

Martial law has been employed throughout history in various countries around the world. One notable example is the imposition of martial law in the United States during the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and allowed military tribunals to try civilians.

Characteristics of Martial Law

  • Suspension of civil rights
  • Curfews and restrictions on movement
  • Increased military presence
  • Control over media and communications

Examples of Martial Law

One recent example of martial law is the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, Philippines in 2017, following the siege of Marawi by ISIS-affiliated militants. The military was given broader powers to enforce security and restore order in the region.

Case Studies

In 1981, martial law was declared in Poland by the communist government in an attempt to crush the Solidarity movement. The imposition of martial law led to widespread protests and international condemnation.


According to a study by the International Committee of the Red Cross, martial law has been declared more than 300 times worldwide in the past century, with varying degrees of success in restoring order.

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