High Level Panel raises concerns regarding the trials of political leaders in Myanmar

Thursday 30 September 2021

Image credit: 360b / Shutterstock.com (left) wikimedia.org/Pete Souza (right)

On 30 September 2021, members of the High Level Panel, consisting of prominent lawyers, found that presently, the trials of political leaders in Myanmar fail to meet minimum fair trial standards established under international law. The Panel calls on the Court to cooperate with it to ensure that fair trial standards are met. 

The High Level Panel was established in July 2021 to review the trials of high-profile political leaders in Myanmar, most notably, of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, who were arrested on 1 February 2021 and subsequently deposed – which represents the inquiry stage of criminal proceedings – for several charges in courts across three towns.

In July 2021, the High Level Panel asked the Court to facilitate its trial review, through video recorded and live-streamed hearings, or at minimum, an audio recording, and through contact with the prosecuting lawyers and the defence team. The Court’s failure to respond to this request has forced the High Level Panel to conclude that as of this moment, there will be no public trial that can be independently reviewed by the Panel or anyone else.

Through information available from limited but reliable sources, the Panel has identified that presently the accused are being denied their rights to be informed of the charges against them, to have the effective assistance of defence counsel and to be tried in public. 

The Panel has noted that:
-    after the political leaders were detained, they were denied access to legal assistance for two months, even after they requested to see lawyers; 
-    although the leaders have now been allowed access to legal assistance, they have not been given enough time to communicate with their lawyers, being permitted only 30 minutes to discuss all complaints against them at each meeting;
-    the lawyers have not been given all relevant information about the complaints in time or, in respect of some information, at all and have been unable to explain the defendants’ situation to them;
-    the hearings that have taken place to date have not been open to the public. This has been justified on the basis of COVID-19 restrictions; however, no provision has been made to accommodate the virtual participation of journalists or observers;
-    despite the public being barred, a photographer has come into the hearing room before each hearing and taken photographs of the political leaders, until this practice was challenged by the defence lawyer. Later the photographs have appeared in newspapers;
-    there have been several delays to the proceedings due to 'State holidays'. These have been justified on the basis of COVID-19 restrictions. These delays have resulted in the lawyers being denied access to the detainees for several weeks on end.
Furthermore, the High Level Panel is highly concerned about the health and wellbeing of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has sometimes not been well enough to participate in the proceedings. There is no information available as to whether she has been provided with medical attention. 

The High Level Panel will continue reviewing any information received about the handling of the trials of the political leaders in Myanmar and will provide regular updates. The High Level Panel welcomes any further information coming from reliable sources.
The High Level Panel will publish further findings later this year, as the trials progress.


Notes to the Editor​​​​​​​

  1. Related material: 
    •    IBAHRI activities: www.ibanet.org/Myanmar-IBAHRI-announces-formation-of-High-Level-Panel-to-review-trials-of-political-leaders
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  3. Find the IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) on social media here:
  4. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice. The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

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