Myanmar junta carries out country’s first judicial executions in decades amid widespread international criticism News
Maung Sun, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Myanmar junta carries out country’s first judicial executions in decades amid widespread international criticism

According to state media Monday, Myanmar’s military junta executed four pro-democracy activists over the weekend.

The four individuals put to death were Phyo Zeya Thaw, a lawmaker from Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted party National League for Democracy, and veteran activist Ko Jimmy, both sentenced under the Myanmar Counter-Terrorism Law, and Ko Hla Myo Aung and Ko Aung Thura Zaw, both sentenced for the murder of a woman they claimed was an informer for the junta. The junta announced in June that the activists would be executed, breaking the country’s de-facto moratorium on carrying out death sentences. The last judicially ordered executions in the country occurred in 1988, according to the United Nations.

Following the executions, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Thomas Andrews said that the four people were tried, convicted and sentenced by closed-door military tribunals rather than civilian courts, without the right of appeal and, as reported, without legal representation. This was in line with the Martial Law Order of March 2021. According to Andrews, the executions violated international human rights law and ignored a personal appeal by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ chair. UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions Morris Tidball-Binz joined Andrews to denounce the executions as “depraved,” calling for a strong international response.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said, “This cruel and regressive step is an extension of the military’s ongoing repressive campaign against its own people,” and called on the junta to immediately release all political prisoners and reinstate its hitherto moratorium on the use of capital punishment.

A June statement by the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar mentioned, “Imposing a death sentence … on the basis of proceedings that do not satisfy the basic requirements of a fair trial may constitute one or more crimes against humanity or war crimes.” The Mechanism was created by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018.

In response to the widespread international criticism of its intention to execute the four individuals, Myanmar’s foreign ministry had argued that the country’s judicial system had fairly proved that “[Phyo Zeya Thaw and Ko Jimmy] were … masterminds of orchestrating full-scale terrorist attacks against innocent civilians to instill fear and disrupt peace and stability.”

A total of 113 people have been sentenced to death since the February 1 coup of last year.

Follow JURIST’s Myanmar dispatches, from on-the-ground law students, here.