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Myanmar: Military Coup d’état violates principles of rule of law, international law and Myanmar’s Constitution

February 8th, 2021  •  Author:   International Court of Justice  •  3 minute read
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The Myanmar military’s coup d’etat of 1 February is unconstitutional and fails to comply with basic rule of law principles, said the ICJ today.


“The Myanmar military’s actions violate even the flawed Constitution that the military itself imposed in 2008,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary General. “The irregularities alleged by the military in the recent elections do not justify declaring a state of emergency and shattering the already weak rule of law in the country.”

The coup d’etat does not comply with the Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar 2008, which suffers from multiple shortcomings in basic respect for the rule of law and international human rights standards.

Article 417 of the Constitution requires the President to declare a state of emergency when there is a risk to the sovereignty of the country.

Article 418 requires the President to hand over all power to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Contrary to this provision, the state of emergency was declared by the Vice-President, after the military detained President Win Myint.

“The accountability of the military to the civilian authorities is a core rule of law principle”, said Sam Zarifi “Myanmar’s military leaders have turned this principle on its head by usurping total authority again.”

The ICJ is concerned that Myanmar’s Constitution provides for the possibility of suspending protections for a number of human rights, such as freedom of expression and association and the right to habeas corpus.  Under international human rights law, derogations from certain rights are permissible only when strictly necessary to meet a specific threat to the life of the nation, conditions not met under the current emergency.

The right to habeas corpus is among those rights that may never be suspended. The writ of habeas corpus allows any person detained by any State agent, including during emergencies, to challenge the lawfulness of the detention.

“The right to test the lawfulness of any detention needs to be restored and the judiciary must be able to independently examine the legality of any arrests and detentions and order to release of those it finds are detained illegally” said Sam Zarifi.

Of particular concern to the ICJ is the near-total impunity provided to the military after the declaration of the State of Emergency, and the proliferation of arbitrary detention without recourse to legal review.

Article 432 of the Constitution effectively shields the military and security forces from any review of ’legitimate measures’ pursuant to the declaration of a state of emergency, which the ICJ notes also flies in the face of the rule of law.

“After the shock of the coup d’etat, we are now seeing brave lawyers and civil society activists trying to use peaceful means at their disposal to demand their rights,” Zarifi said. “This movement is not focused around an icon or even one party, but on the notion that the people of Myanmar should be able to government themselves and decide their future.”


Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary General, sam.zarifi(a)

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