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Extrajudicial killings of dissidents a war crime with serious chilling effect

July 25th, 2022  •  Author:   Free Expression Myanmar  •  3 minute read
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FEM shares its condolences and condemns the military’s extrajudicial killing of four dissidents in what likely amounts to a war crime that will leave a chilling effect on freedom of expression across Myanmar and beyond.

On 25 July, the military-controlled State media announced that Ko Jimmy, Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw, Ko Hla Myo Aung, and Ko Aung Thura Zaw had been executed. Activist, Ko Jimmy and politician, Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw were undoubtedly targeted by the military because of their long history of criticising the military and its human rights violations. None of their families was informed or given proper access to say goodbye. The death penalty had not been used for more than 30 years.

FEM is deeply concerned for the more than 100 people who have also been sentenced to death by the military, many of whom will be dissidents.

FEM believes that the killings reached the threshold of extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary killings, which are prohibited under international law. The UN defines an extrajudicial killing as one that contravenes or lacks due process of law. The military, which conducted an unconstitutional coup in February 2021, has dismantled all due process in the country. Secret trials do not follow any fair trial standards.

FEM also believes that, in addition to being human rights violations under international law, at least one of the extrajudicial killings reached the threshold of a war crime under international law, namely the Rome Statute, Article 8.2.c.iv, which prohibits “carrying out executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all judicial guarantees which are generally recognized as indispensable”.

On 15 March 2021, the military unlawfully issued Martial Law Order 3/2021 which provided for military tribunals to sentence the death penalty for 23 so-called “crimes”, including 11 criminalising freedom of expression. For example, a person breaching the News Media Law could face the death penalty. The Order also removed the right to appeal except to the coup leader, Min Aung Hlaing.

The military’s actions have increased the chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression inside and outside of Myanmar. They add to the ongoing threat of long prison terms, torture, and summary execution in the street for those who dissent against the military.FEM urges all States to reflect on the military escalation of gross and systematic human rights violations in Myanmar and to take immediate action to bring about justice and accountability. In particular, FEM urges those States that have until now actively or tacitly supported military impunity, including China and Russia at the UN Security Council, and in ASEAN, to end that support. FEM also urges the UN to learn from its failures until now and dramatically improve its performance.


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