Myanmar: UN experts sound alarm over junta’s decision to enforce death sentences

June 10th, 2022  •  Author:   Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights  •  5 minute read
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GENEVA (10 June 2022) – The Myanmar junta’s announced decision to enforce death sentences against four individuals, including two prominent activists, marks the start of what could be a spate of death pronouncements, two UN experts* warned today, without an increase in international pressure on the brutal military regime.

“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. 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 experts said.

In the face of increasing human rights violations, the experts urged the international community to exert greater pressure on Myanmar’s 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.”

The experts stressed that one of the condemned individuals is a former member of parliament from the National League for Democracy, while another is a leader of the 88 Generation activist group that stood up to former dictator Ne Win’s regime. They were sentenced to death by a military tribunal in January 2022, on charges of treason and terrorism. If the executions proceed, they will be the first judicial executions in Myanmar since 1988.

“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,” they said.

The UN experts stressed that the imposition of the death penalty was taking place alongside the military’s extrajudicial killings of civilians, estimated now to stand at nearly 2,000.

“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. The military has killed civilians during massacres, crackdowns on protestors, and airstrikes against civilian locations, and has tortured detainees to death,” the experts said.

The four individuals were tried and convicted in military tribunals, and reportedly without access to legal counsel during their rejected appeals – 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,” the experts said.

Martial Law Order 3/2021, illegitimately decreed by the Myanmar junta in March 2021, provides for the application of the death penalty for 23 vague and broadly defined offences. Most notably, the order provides that the death penalty can be applied for treason provisions, which in practice means any criticism of the military.

Since the military coup on 1 February 2021, at least 114 people have reportedly been sentenced to death, including 41 in absentia

Without recognising its legitimacy, the Special Rapporteurs called on the Myanmar junta to immediately and permanently halt the imposition of the death penalty and commute all capital sentences handed down to date.

“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,” the experts said. They reiterated that international law unequivocally forbids the imposition of the death penalty on anyone below 18 years of age.

*The experts: Mr. Thomas Andrews, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in MyanmarMr. Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial summary or arbitrary executions

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Country page: Myanmar

For more information and media requests, please contact Jacqui Zalcberg ([email protected])

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato Rosario De Souza ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts.

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