Myanmar: Death sentences against opposition activists must be overturned

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has condemned the conviction and death sentences imposed on former Parliamentarian Ko Phyo Zeyar, student activist Ko Jimmy, and opposition activists Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, by Myanmar’s military.

The four were convicted under Myanmar’s Counterterrorism Law for allegedly inciting unrest and taking part in ‘terrorism,’ each in the latter half of 2021 in unfair “trials” by military courts. Their involvement in the activities for which they are charged is disputed.

“These sentences, following closed-door military trials that lack the most basic of rights guarantees, suggest the military’s escalating reliance on violence and fear to rule Myanmar,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary-General.

The ICJ considers that the use of the death penalty under any circumstance is a violation of the right to life and the prohibition against cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

The ICJ also deplores the use of military tribunals to try civilians, which is a violation of the right to a fair trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal under international law

Under orders promulgated unliterally by the ruling junta under state of emergency orders, most district courts have been moved to prison compounds, which has bypassed many legal protections owed to defendants. Those convicted in this latest trial, like many detainees facing politically motivated charges, are facing charges before both the ordinary courts and military tribunals while being denied the right to counsel before both bodies.

In the military tribunals, summary proceedings are carried out behind closed doors, with defendants unable to examine the evidence produced against them nor mount any form of effective defense, in violation of international law governing fair trials. While a right to appeal exists, in the cases against the four democracy activists highlighted above, it is unclear what court denied their appeals.

“The use of military tribunals to try civilians, the imposition of harsher penalties including the death penalty, and the decision of the junta to implement those death sentences all indicate how much the legal system in Myanmar has slipped since the military takeover in February 2021,” Zarifi further stated.

The ICJ calls on Myanmar to implement an immediate moratorium on the carrying out death sentences and the use of military courts to try civilians.


Under international law and standards, civilians should never be tried before the use of military courts. The UN General Assembly, in repeated resolutions adopted by an overwhelming majority of States, has called on those States that retain the death penalty to impose a moratorium on death sentences, with a view to abolition.

Imposition of the death penalty following proceedings that do not meet the strictest guarantees of international fair trial standards constitutes an additional compound violation of international human rights law.

It has been reported that more than 100 people have been sentenced to death by military courts since the start of military rule in February 2021, including two children. While the death penalty has been retained in Myanmar for decades, the country has become abolitionist in practice, with the last known execution following a sentence of death carried out in 1988.

ICJ also calls on the ASEAN and other countries having an influence on the junta to step up to prevent the execution of political opponents and the misuse of the judicial process in Myanmar.


Sam Zarifi, ICJ Secretary General (Geneva), Tel: +41797264415, email:

Mandira Sharma, ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser (Kathmandu), Tel: +977-9851048475, email:

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