Myanmar junta’s revival of death sentence ‘vile attempt at instilling fear’, UN rights experts say


The Myanmar junta’s recent decision to enforce death sentence against four individuals, including two prominent activists, marks the start of what could be a spate of death pronouncements, two UN experts warned on Friday.

Special Rapporteurs Thomas Andrews and Morris Tidball-Binz, fear the development could signal the start of a spate of executions in the southeast Asian country and urged the international community to increase pressure on Myanmar ‘s military rulers.

Myanmar has not carried out capital punishment in more than 30 years.

“The illegitimate military junta is providing the international community with further evidence of its disregard for human rights as it prepares to hang pro-democracy activists,” they said.

“These death sentences, handed down by an illegitimate court of an illegitimate junta, are a vile attempt at instilling fear amongst the people of Myanmar.”

The military seized power in Myanmar in February 2021. Since then, at least 114 people have reportedly been sentenced to death, including 41 in absentia, according to the experts.

Last week, the junta announced it would execute four people whose appeals had been rejected following closed-door trials.

They include former legislator Phyo Zeya Thaw and veteran activist Kyaw Min Yu, known as Ko Jimmy, who were sentenced to death by a military tribunal in January on treason and terrorism charges.

Phyo Zeya Thaw is a former member of parliament with the National League for Democracy, the party of imprisoned leader Aung San Suu Kyi, overthrown in the military coup.  Ko Jimmy is a leader of the 88 Generation activist group that stood up to the regime of former dictator Ne Win.

“The junta’s announced decision to execute the activists illustrates how the military seeks to use all apparatuses of the State to persecute those that oppose its attempt to return Myanmar to military authoritarian rule,” the UN experts said.

In the face of increasing human rights violations, they called for the international community, and countries serving on the UN Security Council in particular, to exert greater pressure on the military.

“Without imposing serious costs on the military for its attacks on fundamental rights, we should expect increasing numbers of these death penalty pronouncements from the junta,” they said.

“The international community – chiefly Member States and the Security Council – must demonstrate that these actions will not go unpunished and do more to target the military’s needs for money, weapons and legitimacy.”

Under a March 2021 Martial Law Order, the death penalty can be applied for 23 vague and broadly defined offenses, most notably for treason, “which in practice means any criticism of the military”, the UN experts said.

The four individuals were tried and convicted in military tribunals, and reportedly without access to legal counsel during their rejected appeals, which is in violation of international human rights law.

“In today’s Myanmar, fair trial and due process guarantees simply do not exist. The junta’s thumb is firmly upon the scales of justice and under these circumstances, imposing and enforcing the death penalty is especially heinous,” they stated.

Without recognising the junta’s legitimacy, the Special Rapporteurs called on the military leaders to immediately and permanently halt the imposition of the death penalty and commute all capital sentences handed down so far.

“Where capital punishment is not yet abolished, under no circumstances can the death penalty ever be applied as a sanction against the legitimate exercise of human rights, such as freedoms of opinion and expression, assembly and association,” they said.

The experts recalled that the imposition of the death penalty was taking place alongside the military’s extrajudicial killings of civilians, now estimated at nearly 2,000 deaths, including during massacres, crackdowns on protestors, and airstrikes against civilian locations.

“The world must not lose sight of the fact that these death sentences are being meted out in the context of the military murdering civilians nearly every day in its widespread and systematic attack on the people of Myanmar,” they said. (Source: UN News)