Half-mast and half-staff refer to a flag flying below the summit of a ship mast, a pole on land, or a pole on a building. In many countries this is seen as a symbol of respect, mourning, distress, or, in some cases, a salute. Flags are said to be "half-mast" if flown from ships and "half-staff" if on land, although this distinction is mainly observed in the United States – places such as Canada and the United Kingdom do not have half-staff in their vocabulary and rely solely on using the term half-mast when ordering flags to fly lowered.
The tradition of flying the flag at half-staff began in the 17th century. According to some sources, the flag is lowered to make room for an "invisible flag of death" flying above. However, there is disagreement about where on a flagpole a flag should be when it is at half-staff. It is often recommended that a flag at half-staff be lowered only as much as the hoist, or width, of the flag. British flag protocol is that a flag should be flown no less than two-thirds of the way up the flagpole, with at least the height of the flag between the top of the flag and the top of the pole. It is common for the phrase to be taken literally and for a flag to be flown only halfway up a flagpole, although some authorities deprecate that practice.
When hoisting a flag that is to be displayed at half-staff, it should be raised to the finial of the pole for an instant, then lowered to half-staff. Likewise, when the flag is lowered at the end of the day, it should be hoisted to the finial for an instant, and then lowered.
The flag of Australia is flown half-mast in Australia:
In Australia and other Commonwealth countries, merchant ships "dip" their ensigns to half-mast when passing an RAN vessel or a ship from the navy of any allied country.
The flag of Bangladesh flew at half-mast on the national mourning day (15 August, the day in which Father of the nation Bangobandhu Sheikh Mujibor Rahman was murdered with some of his family members by a group of military officers. The national flag is also kept half hoisted on 21 February which is recognised as International Mother's Language Day to pay homage to the martyrs of Language Movement in 1952 which took place to establish ‘Bangla’ as the state Language of the then East Pakistan (present Bangladesh).
The term half-mast is the official term used in Canada, according to the Rules For Half-Masting the National Flag of Canada. The decision to fly the flag at half-mast on federal buildings rests with the Department of Canadian Heritage. Federally, the national flag of Canada is flown at half-mast to mark the following occasions:
|Occasion or date||Protocol or significance|
|The death of the sovereign||From the time of notification of death until sunset on the day of the funeral or memorial service, but the flag is flown at full-mast on the day which the accession of the new monarch is proclaimed|
|The death of a Governor General or Prime Minister who dies while in office||From the time of notification of death until sunset on the day of the funeral or memorial service|
|The death of any member of the Royal Family, a former Governor General, the sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, sitting Ministers of the Crown, or a former Prime Minister||From the time of notification of death until sunset on the day of the funeral or, if there is to be a memorial service, from the time of notification of death until sunset the following day and from sunrise to sunset on the day of the service|
|The death of a police officer in the line of duty.||The flag could be flown at half-mast from a couple of days to weeks, depending on the ranking of the officer.|
|28 April of each year||Marking the Day of Mourning for People Killed or Injured in the Workplace (coinciding with World Day for Safety and Health at Work)|
|23 June of each year||Marking the National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism|
|Last Sunday in September of each year||Marking Police Officer's National Memorial Day|
|11 November of each year||Marking Remembrance Day|
|6 December of each year||Marking the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women|
|9 April of each year||Marking Vimy Ridge Day|
|Varies||The annual memorial service on Parliament Hill to remember deceased parliamentarians|
On occasion discretion can dictate the flying of the national flag at half-mast, not only on the Peace Tower, but on all federal facilities. Some examples include 11 September 2001, 11 September 2002, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Mayerthorpe tragedy, the death of Pope John Paul II, the 2005 London bombings, the death of Smokey Smith, the state funerals of former U.S. presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, and the death of Jack Layton
There are, however, exceptions to the rules of half-masting in Canada: if Victoria Day or Canada Day fall during a period of half-masting, the flags are to be returned to full-mast for the duration of the day. The national flag on the Peace Tower is also hoisted to full mast if a foreign head of state or head of government is visiting the parliament. These exemptions, though, do not apply to the period of mourning for the death of a Canadian monarch. The Royal Standard of Canada also never flies at half-mast, as it is considered representative of the sovereign, who ascends to the throne automatically upon the death of his or her predecessor. Each province can make its own determination of when to fly the flag at half-mast when provincial leaders or honoured citizens pass away.
To raise a flag in this position, the flag must be flown to the top of the pole first, then brought down halfway before the flag is secured for flying. When such mourning occurs, all flags should be flown at that position or not be flown at all, with the exception of flags permanently attached to poles.
A controversy surfaced in April 2006, when the newly elected Conservative government discontinued the practice, initiated by the previous Liberal government following the Tarnak Farm incident, of flying the flag at half-mast on all government buildings whenever a Canadian soldier was killed in action in Afghanistan. The issue divided veterans' groups and military families, some of whom supported the return to the original tradition of using Remembrance Day to honour all soldiers killed in action, while others felt it was an appropriate way to honour the fallen and to remind the population of the costs of war. In spite of the federal government's policy, local authorities have often decided to fly the flag at half-mast to honour fallen soldiers who were from their jurisdiction, including Toronto and Saskatchewan.
On 2 April 2008, the House of Commons voted in favour of a motion calling on the government to reinstate the former policy regarding the half-masting of the flag on federal buildings. The motion, however, was not binding and the Cabinet refused to recommend any revision in policy to the Governor General. At the same time, a federal advisory committee tabled its report on the protocol of flying the national flag at half-mast, recommending that the Peace Tower flag remain at full height on days such as the Police Officers National Memorial Day and the National Day or Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, stating that the flag should only be half-masted on Remembrance Day. At last report, the committee's findings had been forwarded to the House of Commons all-party heritage committee for further study.
The National Flag Law provides for a number of situations on which the flag should be flown at half-mast, and authorizes the State Council to make such executive orders:
In Finland, the official term for flying a flag at half-mast is known as suruliputus (mourning by flag(ging)). It is performed by raising the flag briefly to the top of the mast and lowering it approximately one-third of the length of the flagpole, placing the lower hoist corner at half-mast. On wall-mounted and roof-top flagpoles the middle of the flag should fly at the middle of the flagpole. When removing the flag from half-mast, it is briefly hoisted to the finial before lowering.
Traditionally, private residences and apartment houses fly the national flag at half-mast on the day of the death of a resident, when the flag is displayed at half-mast until sunset or 21:00, whichever comes first. Flags are also flown at half-mast on the day of the burial, with the exception that the flag is to be hoisted to the finial after the inhumation takes place.
Flags are also to be flown at half-mast on the days of national mourning. Such days are the deaths of former or current Finnish presidents, as well as significant catastrophic events such as the aftermath of 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, 2011 Norway attacks and significant national events such as the 2004 Konginkangas bus disaster and school shootings of Jokela and Kauhajoki.
Historically, flags were flown at half-mast on the Commemoration Day of Fallen Soldiers which takes place on the third Sunday of May. Originally, flag was raised to the finial in the morning, displayed at half-mast from 10:00 to 14:00, and again raised to the finial for the rest of the day. In 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the tradition of flying the flag at half-mast was discontinued and flag is displayed at the finial in a usual manner.
The French flag is flown half mast on any Day of Mourning by order of the government (for example after the Charlie Hebdo attack on 7 January 2015, the Paris attacks on 13 November 2015 and the Nice attack on 14 July 2016). Other countries have also flown the French flag at half mast because of this too. (Australia's Sydney Harbour Bridge flew the French flag at half mast because of the Paris attacks on 13 November 2015).
Some occurrences of the French flag being flown half mast have been controversial, especially after the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 but also in a lesser measure at the time following the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953.
The flag of Germany and the flags of its federal states are flown at half-mast:
Similar rules as in China apply for Hong Kong. See Flag of Hong Kong for details. Prior to the transfer of sovereignty in 1997, the rules for flying the flag at half-mast were the same as the British ones.
The flag of India is flown at half-mast for the death of a President, Vice-President, or Prime Minister, all over India. For the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of The Supreme Court of India, it is flown in Delhi and for a Union Cabinet Minister it is flown in Delhi and the state capitals, from where he or she came. For a Minister of State, it is flown only in Delhi. For a Governor, Lt. Governor, or Chief Minister of a state or union territory, it is flown in the concerned state.
If the intimation of the death of any dignitary is received in the afternoon, the flag shall be flown at halfmast on the following day also at the place or places indicated above, provided the funeral has not taken place before sunrise on that day. On the day of the funeral of a dignitary mentioned above, the flag shall be flown at half-mast at the place of the funeral. For example, on 17 March 2019, The Government of India declared a National Day of mourning on 18 March 2019 due to the sad demise of the Chief Minister of Goa, Mr. Manohar Parrekar on 17 March 2019. This means, that on 18 March 2019, the Indian National Flag must be half-masted in the National Capital i.e. New Delhi and in the capital cities of all the 29 states and Union Territories.
In the event of a halfmast day coinciding with the Republic Day, Independence Day,National Week (6 to 13 April), any other particular day of national rejoicing as may be specified by the Government of India, or, in the case of a state, on the anniversary of formation of that state, flags are not permitted to be flown at half-mast except over the building where the body of the deceased is lying until it has been removed and that flag shall be raised to the full-mast position after the body has been removed.
Observances of State mourning on the death of foreign dignitaries are governed by special instructions issued from the Ministry of Home Affairs (Home Ministry) in individual cases. However, in the event of death of either the Head of the State or Head of the Government of a foreign country, the Indian Mission accredited to that country may fly the national flag on the above-mentioned days. India observed a five-day period of National Mourning on the death of Nelson Mandela in 2013. India also declared 29 March 2015 as a day of National Mourning as a mark of respect to the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.
The flag of Iran is flown at half-mast on the death of a national figure or mourning days.
The flag of Ireland is flown at half-mast on the death of a national or international figure, that is, former and current Presidents or Taoiseach, on all prominent government buildings equipped with a flag pole. The death of a prominent local figure can also be marked locally by the flag being flown at half-mast. When the national flag is flown at half-mast, no other flag should be half-masted. When a balcony in Berkeley, California, collapsed, killing six Irish people, flags were flown at half mast above all state buildings.
The flag of Indonesia is flown half-mast for:
The National flag of Indonesia may also be flown half mast:
The flag of Japan is flown at half-staff upon the death of the Emperor of Japan, other members of the Imperial Family, or a current or former Prime Minister, and also following national disasters such as the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. In addition to the tradition of half-staff, the national flag topped by black cloth may be flown to designate mourning. See the flag of Japan for more.
The flag of Malaysia (Jalur Gemilang) is flown at half-mast all over the country:
As a mark of respect to the passengers and crew who were on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and their family members, some states had their states flag flown at half-mast. Similarly, as a mark of respect to the passengers and crew who were on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and their family members, the national flag was flown at half-mast for three days and also on the national day of mourning, 22 August 2014. The 2015 Sabah earthquake had a mourning day and the flag half-mast on 8 June 2015.
The flag of Malta is flown at half-mast on government buildings by instruction of the government through the Office of the Prime Minister, for example after 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.
The flag of the Netherlands is nationally flown at half-mast:
The royal standard and other flags of the Dutch royal family are never flown at half-mast. Instead, a black pennon may be affixed to the flag in times of mourning.
In addition, it can also be flown at half-mast at the request of the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage. Examples of this are for the deaths of prominent New Zealanders (e.g. Sir Edmund Hillary and Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, the Maori Queen), and for national tragedies (e.g. the Pike River Mine disaster)
According to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, the position is always referred to as half-mast. The flag should be at least its own height from the top of the flagpole, though the actual position will depend on the size of the flag and the length of the flagpole.
The flag of Pakistan is routinely flown at half-mast on following days:
Any other day notified by the Government. For example, on the death of Saudi king King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, the flag was flown at half-mast for seven days (the flag of Saudi Arabia wasn't at half-mast because the flag contains the Shahada). Upon the Assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the flag was ordered to be flown at half-mast for three days. On the death of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, spiritual leader of Dawoodi Bohra community, the flag has been ordered by Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, to be flown at half-mast for two days (17 and 18 January) to express solidarity with the bereaved community. In 2014, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a three-day mourning period from 16 December, including flying the flag at half-mast nationwide and at all Embassies and High Commissions of Pakistan, for the attack on Army Public School in Peshawar.
The flag of the Philippines may be flown at half-mast as a sign of mourning. Upon the official announcement of the death of the President or a former President, the flag should be flown at half-mast for ten days. The flag should be flown at half-mast for seven days following the death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice, the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The flag may also be required to fly at half-mast upon the death of other persons to be determined by the National Historical Institute, for a period less than seven days. The flag shall be flown at half-mast on all the buildings and places where the decedent was holding office, on the day of death until the day of interment of an incumbent member of the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, the Senate or the House of Representatives, and such other persons as may be determined by the National Historical Institute. Such other people determined by the National Historical Institute have included Pope John Paul II, and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
When flown at half-mast, the flag should be first hoisted to the peak for a moment then lowered to the half-mast position. It should be raised to the peak again before it is lowered for the day.
The flag may also be used to cover the caskets of the dead of the military, veterans of previous wars, national artists, and outstanding civilians as determined by the local government. In such cases, the flag must be placed such that the white triangle is at the head and the blue portion covers the right side of the casket. The flag should not be lowered to the grave or allowed to touch the ground, but should be solemnly folded and handed to the heirs of the deceased.
The flag of Russia is flown at half-mast and (or) topped by black ribbon:
All the regional flags and the departmental ensigns are flown at half-mast on national or regional mourning days as well as the national flag. Firms and non-governmental organizations, embassies and representatives of international organizations often join the mourning. National or regional mourning usually lasts for one day.
The flag of Saudi Arabia is one of the four flags in the world that are never flown at half-mast because it shows the Shahada. The flag of Somaliland, a self-declared state internationally recognized as part of Somalia, also displays the Shahada. The flag of Iraq bears the Takbir once. The flag of Afghanistan displays the Takbir beneath the Shahada on the top. Since all four bear the concept of oneness of God, the flags are never lowered to half-mast even as a sign of mourning.
The flag of South Africa is flown at half-mast as a sign of mourning when ordered by the President of South Africa. Upon the official announcement of the death of the current or former President, the flag should be flown at half-mast for ten days. The flag should be flown at half-mast for seven days following the death of the Deputy President, the Chairperson of NCOP, the Speaker of the National Assembly or the Chief Justice. For example, the flag was flown at half-mast from 6–15 December 2013 during the national mourning period for Nelson Mandela.
The flag of Sri Lanka is nationally flown at half-mast on a National day of mourning.
The flag of Sweden is nationally flown at half-mast in Sweden. Examples include:
The flag of the Republic of China is flown at half-mast on 28 February to mark the anniversary of the 28 February Incident. On 5 August 2014, Taiwan flew their flag in half-mast for three days to commemorate the victims of the Kaohsiung gas explosions and TransAsia Airways Flight 222 crash.
The flag of Turkey is flown at half-mast throughout Turkey every 10 November, between 09:05 and the sunset, in memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who died on 10 November 1938 at five past nine in the morning. At other times, the government may issue an order for the national flag to be flown at half-mast upon the death of principal figures of the Turkish political life as a mark of respect to their memory (such as Turgut Özal). When such an order is issued, all government buildings, offices, public schools and military bases are to fly their flags at half-mast. To show the sympathy of Turkish people to a foreign leader, flags are also flown at half-mast by governmental order (such as after the deaths of Yasser Arafat or Pope John Paul II). The flag at the Grand National Assembly in Ankara is never lowered to half-mast, regardless of the occasion. The flag at Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Turkey, is only lowered to half-mast on 10 November. At those times when the flag is to be flown at half-mast, it must first be raised to full height, then lowered to half-mast.
The flag of the United Arab Emirates is flown at half staff on 30 November (Martyrs' Day) of every year from 08:00 to 11:30. The flag is also flown at half staff by decree of the President of the United Arab Emirates usually for three days. Each of the seven Emirs has the right to order flags to be flown at half staff in his Emirate.
The Royal Standard, the flag of the British monarch, is never flown at half-mast, because there is always a living monarch: the throne passes immediately to the successor.
There was some controversy in the United Kingdom in 1997 following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales that no flag was flying at half-mast at Buckingham Palace. Until 1997, the only flag to fly from Buckingham Palace was the Royal Standard, the official flag of the reigning British sovereign, which would only fly when the sovereign was in residence at the Palace (or, exceptionally, after the death of the sovereign, the flag of the next senior member of the Royal Family would be raised, if the new sovereign were not present); otherwise, no flag would fly.
In response to public outcry that the palace was not flying a flag at half mast, Queen Elizabeth II ordered a break with protocol, replacing the Royal Standard with the Union Flag at half-mast as soon as the Queen left the Palace to attend the Princess's funeral at Westminster Abbey. The Royal Standard was again flown (at full hoist) on her return to the Palace. Since then, the Union Flag flies from the Palace when the Queen is not in residence, and has flown at half mast upon the deaths of members of the Royal Family, such as Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother in 2002 and other times of national mourning such as following the terrorist bombings in London on 7 July 2005.
In the UK, the correct way to fly the flag at half-mast is two-thirds between the bottom and top of the flagstaff, with at least the width of the flag between the top of the flag and the top of the pole according to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which decides the flying, on command of the Sovereign. The flag may be flown on a government building at half-mast on the following days:
If a flag flying day coincides with a half-mast flag flying day (including the death of a member of the royal family), the flag is flown at full-mast unless a specific command is received from the Sovereign.
If more than one flag is flown on a half-mast day, they must all be flown at half-mast, or not at all. The flag of a foreign nation must never be flown at half-mast on UK soil unless that country has declared mourning.
At the United Nations offices in New York and Geneva, the flag of the United Nations flies at half-staff on the day after the death of a Head of State or a Head of Government of a member state, but generally not during the funeral. Other occasions are at the Secretary-General's discretion. Other offices may follow local practice. To honor the memory of Dag Hammarskjöld the UN issued postage stamps showing its flag at half-staff.
In the United States, the usual government term for non-nautical use is "half-staff." While the term "half-mast" is commonly used in place of half-staff, U.S. law and post-WW-I military tradition indicate that "half-mast" is reserved to usage aboard a ship, where flags are typically flown from masts, and at naval ships ashore.
In the United States, the President can issue an executive order for the flag of the United States to be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States government and others, as a mark of respect to their memory. When such an order is issued, all government buildings, offices, public schools, and military bases are to fly their flags at half-staff. Under federal law (4 U.S.C. § 7(f)), the flags of states, cities, localities, and pennants of societies, shall never be placed above the flag of the United States; thus, all other flags also fly at half-staff when the U.S. flag has been ordered to fly at half-staff. There is no penalty for failure to comply with the above law as to enforce such a penalty would violate the First Amendment.
Governors of U.S. states and territories are authorized by federal law to order all U.S. and state flags in their jurisdiction flown at half-staff as a mark of respect for a former or current state official who has died, or for a member of the armed forces who has died in active duty. The governor's authority to issue the order is more restricted than the president's, and does not include discretion to issue the order for state residents who do not meet the criteria stated. Since a governor's executive order affects only his or her state, not the entire country, these orders are distinguished from presidential proclamations.
Federal law includes a Congressional request that the flag be flown at half-staff on Peace Officers Memorial Day (15 May), unless that day is also Armed Forces Day. Presidential proclamations also call for the flag to be flown at half-staff on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (7 December), and Patriot Day (11 September).
On 16 October 2001, President George W. Bush approved legislation requiring the United States flag to be lowered to half-staff on all Federal buildings to memorialize fallen firefighters. Pub.L. 107–51 requires this action to occur annually in conjunction with observance of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service. The date of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service is traditionally the first Sunday in October. It is held at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
4 U.S.C. § 7(m) was modified with new legislation signed into effect on 29 June 2007, by President Bush, requiring any federal facility within a region, which proclaims half-staff to honor a member of the U.S. Armed Forces who died on active duty, to follow the half-staff proclamation.
Apart from the lowered position of the flag of Vietnam, state mourning also warrants a black ribbon 1/10 the width of the flag's width and equal to the length of the flag to be tied at the summit. Variants have the black ribbon wrapped around the flag itself, preventing it from being unfurled.
The flag of Zimbabwe is flown at half-staff at the conferment of National Hero Status to the deceased. As a first-generation[discuss] republic, adjudication over such a status is currently done by the politburo of the ZANU–PF.
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