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Myanmar: IBAHRI condemns rise in death sentences and calls for halt in enforcement

Monday 20 June 2022

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the rise in death sentences in Myanmar following the February 2021 military coup and a junta announcement that it will execute four people, including two prominent opponents of the regime: former opposition lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw and activist Kyaw Min Yu, known as ‘Ko Jimmy’. They were charged by the military with treason and terrorism and sentenced to death following closed-door military trials.

There has not been an execution in Myanmar for more than 30 years, with the last known one to have taken place in 1988. Since the coup, military tribunals have reportedly sentenced 114 people to death under martial law, including 41 in absentia.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, stated: ‘The military courts’ sham trials disregard basic fair trial standards and due process, rendering the resulting death sentence arbitrary in nature. The IBAHRI calls on Myanmar to halt all planned executions, including of Phyo Zeya Thaw and Ko Jimmy, introduce an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to abolition, commute all death sentences and release those arbitrarily detained.’

Death sentences can be imposed for 23 crimes under martial law, most of which are not considered capital crimes in civilian courts. The sentences follow summary proceedings behind closed doors, during which defendants do not have access to legal representation or the right of appeal. Defendants have just 15 days from the date of their conviction to apply to the junta Chairman of the State Administration Council for a reversal of the decision. Such applications can reportedly only be filed through prison officials, not lawyers.

According to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, more than 11,000 people are currently arbitrarily detained in Myanmar. There are also widespread reports of enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment. Lawyers, judges, political opponents, journalists and activists are being brought before military courts, despite their civilian status. In March 2022, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted the military’s use of arrests and detentions as ‘a tool to target and intimidate people who oppose them.’

IBAHRI Co-Chair Mark Stephens CBE commented: ‘The use of military justice systems to try civilians breaches international human rights law, standards and norms. Furthermore, the calculated chilling effect on dissidents in Myanmar that the diminution of rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association is completely unacceptable. The IBAHRI calls for an end to the ongoing and widespread intimidation, harassment and persecution of protestors and human rights defenders, and for justice and reparation for victims of gross human rights violations in Myanmar.’

During the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 50th session, currently taking place, the IBAHRI delivered a joint statement with other human rights and legal organisations – Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Lawyers for Lawyers and the Law Council of Australia – condemning the ongoing gross human rights violations in Myanmar that intensified following the coup in February 2021. Read the statement or watch the video.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor 

  1. On 15 May 2008, the IBAHRI Council adopted its Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, which considers, inter alia, the clear trend towards viewing the death penalty as a breach of international human rights standards, as well as committing the IBAHRI to actively promoting the abolition of the death penalty. Download a PDF of the Background Paper to the IBAHRI Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty.
  2. Related material:
  3. 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.
  4. Find the IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) on social media here:
  5. 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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For further information, please contact: the IBA Human Rights Institute at IBAHRI@int-bar.org

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