On Friday, President Trump announced he would consider going to new extremes to build his long-discussed border wall. He would do it, he said, even if it meant declaring a national emergency.
“I can do it if I want — absolutely,” he said, claiming he didn’t need congressional approval to build the wall. “We can call a national emergency because of the security of our country. We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly.”
But as The Washington Post reported on Friday, “legal experts said Trump’s emergency powers under federal law are limited and expressed doubt that such an avenue would solve a mounting political dilemma.”
Leaders often invoke emergency powers to handle natural disasters and other crises that require immediate attention. U.S. presidents have regularly declared national emergencies, including after the Sept. 11 attacks. Such declarations are also common abroad. In recent years, foreign leaders have also found ways to use states of emergency to broaden their powers or clamp down on dissent — occasionally for years at a time. Here are just a few examples.
Turkey, post-coup attempt
After a coup attempt in July 2016 that left 250 people dead, Turkey declared a state of emergency, vastly expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers. Then the state of emergency was extended again and again.
Over the course of two years, as the state of emergency remained in place, about 160,000 people were detained, including journalists and academics. The U.N. human rights office said last year that almost the same number of civil servants were sacked in that period. Some aspects of Ankara’s crackdown during the state of emergency could be called “collective punishment,” the United Nations said, noting that detentions under the emergency powers led to the torture of some of those who were detained.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry claimed that the United Nations made “unfounded allegations matching up perfectly with the propaganda efforts of terrorist organizations.”
France, post-terrorist attacks
France implemented a state of emergency overnight in 2015, after a series of terrorist attacks shocked the nation and left 130 people dead. The sweeping new powers gave French authorities the ability to expand their counterterrorism efforts. Amnesty International said in a 2016 report that under the expanded powers, authorities could “search houses, businesses and places of worship” without judicial authorization. The rights group noted that France was “certainly confronted with an exceptional and unprecedented situation” after the violent and deadly attacks that prompted the emergency measures to begin with. But the watchdog group said that the large number of searches and low number of criminal investigations raised “serious questions about the extent to which they were necessary and proportionate.”
The group said it “interviewed many Muslims who believed that the measures against them were motivated by their religious beliefs and practice.”
French authorities repeatedly justified the extension of the emergency powers as a reasonable means by which to foil attacks on French soil.
Venezuela, economic and political crisis
In 2016, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro declared a state of emergency, claiming that the United States and actors within Venezuela were plotting to overthrow him. The opposition claimed the move was unconstitutional, but the country’s Supreme Court upheld Maduro’s decision.
The state of emergency was extended multiple times, as Venezuela sank further into an economic and humanitarian crisis that prompted millions of Venezuelans to flee the country. Maduro will be inaugurated for another term next week, and 13 nations issued a statement Friday announcing they will not recognize his new term as legitimate.
In 2017, after about 45 people were killed in church bombings in Egypt, President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi declared a state of emergency there — and it’s been extended for three-month periods at a time ever since.
Human Rights Watch has warned that there has been “near-absolute impunity for abuses by security forces” in Egypt. The watchdog group reported that there have been disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings and seizures of assets without due process.
“The 1958 Emergency Law gives unchecked powers to security forces to arrest and detain and allows the government to impose media censorship and order forced evictions,” the group said.
And in October, the Egyptian parliament voted to extend the state of emergency yet again.