On July 25th, 2022, Myanmar’s ruling military announced that it executed four pro-democracy, accusing them of carrying out terror attacks against the states ruling bodies. These are the first executions to occur in the country in decades and have attracted widespread attention and condemnation from international organisations and human rights organisations. Kyaw Min Yu, a prominent pro-democracy activist, and Phyo Zeya Thaw, a lawmaker, and two others were sentenced to death in January and April with junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun defending the verdicts last month. During a televised news conference, Zaw Min Tum said “how can you say that this is not justice? Required actions needed to be done in the required moments.” Chairperson of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen wrote to the junta leadership to discuss the grave concerns of Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbours about the verdicts. The military junta has referred to international condemnation of the executions as “reckless and interfering.”
February 2021 saw political chaos erupt in Myanmar as its military launched a successful coup against the government, only a short time after the nation began its journey toward democracy in 2011. Former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the former ruling party were arrested and in the coming months the 2008 constitution, which afforded the military the ability to veto any legislation proposed in parliament, was abolished and violence became commonplace as ethnic minorities were actively persecuted across the country. Myanmar’s major urban centres were not spared the effects of the coup as food and medical supplies became unavailable and internet, phone, and electricity provisions were switched-off without notice.
The closed-door trials of the pro-democracy activists and the executions that followed are a concerning shift in the global progress towards the outlawing of the death penalty as a form of punishment. Tom Andrews, U.N. special rapporteur for Myanmar has condemned the actions of the junta and their role in the execution of the activists, stating that he is “outraged and devastated at the news of the junta’s execution of Myanmar patriots and champions of human rights and democracy,” and has referred to the executions as a breach of international human rights law. Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow administration outlawed by the junta, has also heavily condemned these actions.
In a world moving closer to the eradication of the death penalty every day, it is concerning to see it re-instated as a form of punishment and is a grave reversal of the progress made in Myanmar in recent decades. It is crucial that the junta ensure that there are no further executions carried out in Myanmar and that international human rights law is abided by. In order for cooperative and healthy relationships to be established between Southeast Asian nations, it is imperative that all stand firm on their protection of the rights of protestors and additionally, on the rights of ethnic minorities which have been heavily persecuted in Myanmar in the recent months. There is no place in this world for the death penalty and the fallout that it brings with it. Junta leadership must exercise restraint in how they deal with political opponents to ensure that political tensions both nationally and internationally aren’t exacerbated.
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