Myanmar Caries Out Execution Of Four Activists

Myanmar’s military government has approved of and carried out the execution of four pro-democracy activists, in the country’s first use of the death penalty in over three decades. The sentences, which were carried out on the 23rd of July, reflect the rapid decline in civil liberties since the imprisonment of the democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi in February of 2021. The sentences were delivered following a secretive court process in January and April. Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former politician for the National League for Democracy and Kyaw Min Yu, a vocal activist for democratic rights, were convicted of violating antiterrorism laws. Two other men — Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw — were found guilty of murdering a woman suggested to be an informant for the military.  

In contravention of international human rights law, the men were denied the right to appeal, and, according to some reports, were not provided legal counsel. The decision has raised serious concerns regarding the state of Myanmar’s judicial system and its capacity to deliver fair and measured rulings. 

Days before the execution was carried out, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia — the 2022 chair nation of ASEAN — had written to the junta urging the sentence be reconsidered. 

Some have raised concerns that executions were carried out in an attempt to undermine the pro-democracy resistance movement. “These depraved acts must be a turning point for the international community,” wrote UN special rapporteurs Tom Andrews and Morris Tidball-Binz. Mirroring the international alarm, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong wrote in a statement, “Australia is appalled by the execution of four pro-democracy activists in Myanmar and strongly condemns the actions of the Myanmar military regime.” Wong also flagged the possibility of imposing sanctions on the military regime. 

A joint statement signed by the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Norway described the executions as “reprehensible acts of violence that further exemplify the regime’s disregard for human rights and the rule of law.” The statement also called on the government to “restore the country’s path toward democracy.”

The military retook control of the nation on February 11th, 2021, arresting democratic leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi in early morning raids. The coup unleashed a wave of economic instability, shrinking the national economy by over 20 percent, while collapsing its healthcare system even as COVID-19 continued to spread. In spite of widespread protests, the military government has sought to solidify control. According to the United Nations, “military tribunals have sentenced a total of 117 individuals to death, including 41 in absentia” since the coup.

The Council on Foreign Relations estimates that at least 1,500 people have been murdered by the regime, which has burnt villages and imprisoned politicians, activists, and journalists. 

Addressing what has been described by Amnesty International as “Myanmar’s atrocious human rights record,” must remain a central objective of the international community. Indeed, the absence of due process and use of the death sentence reflect an erosion in the credibility of Myanmar’s political institutions. Of equal alarm is the reality that the regime’s brutality and failing economic management most cruelly affects the nation’s poorest citizens. Myanmar must urgently restore its democratic principles, the rule of law, and a strict adherence to international human rights obligations to prevent further crisis. 

Myanmar’s decision to execute four political prisoners following trials lacking due process or transparency is a tragedy with repercussions for the entire nation. As the international community considers introducing sanctions, strenuous efforts must be made to restore civil liberties to the nation.