Myanmar’s (Burma) military – also known as the Tatmadaw – announced on 25 July that it had executed two democracy activists, as well as two other men, marking the first known executions in the country since 1988. Accused of violent resistance against the military, all four men – Phyo Zeya Thaw, Kyaw Min Yu (also known as Ko Jimmy), Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw – were sentenced to death by military tribunals during closed, politically motivated trials. Since the February 2021 coup, over 100 people in Myanmar have been sentenced to death, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The executions indicate a grave escalation in the Tatmadaw’s repression.
The executions received widespread condemnation from the international community, including from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and several governments, among others. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said, “these depraved acts must be a turning point for the international community. What more must the junta do before the international community is willing to take strong action?”
The executions occurred amidst growing evidence of mass atrocities perpetrated by the military throughout the country, including the scorched earth campaign in the northwest. Last week, the military killed at least ten people and burned approximately 500 homes during a raid on a predominantly Muslim village in Sagaing Region – a resistance stronghold. The victims’ bodies were found burned beyond recognition with their hands bound. Amnesty International also recently reported that the Tatmadaw is “systematically” laying antipersonnel landmines in a “massive scale” in and around at least 20 villages in Kayah State. The military has reportedly laid landmines in homes, on farmland and on church grounds, threatening the lives and livelihoods of civilians in contaminated areas. The military’s use of banned landmines likely amounts to war crimes.
The international community – especially ASEAN and the UN Security Council – has a responsibility to respond to the deepening crisis in Myanmar with more than just words. The military should heed the calls of High Commissioner Bachelet by reinstating Myanmar’s de facto suspension on the use of the death penalty. All political prisoners and others arbitrarily detained must be immediately released. Member states must stop providing arms and weapons to Myanmar and support efforts to hold those responsible for atrocities to account.