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Myanmar: Secretive military courts sentence scores of people to death 

Protestors take to the streets in Washington, DC, in the United States, calling for an end to violence in Myanmar.
Unsplash/Gayatri Malhotra
Protestors take to the streets in Washington, DC, in the United States, calling for an end to violence in Myanmar.

Myanmar: Secretive military courts sentence scores of people to death 

Human Rights

Since last year’s military coup in Myanmar, military courts have sentenced more than 130 people to death behind closed doors, the UN human rights chief said on Friday, following the latest convictions announced this week. 

“The military continues to hold proceedings in secretive courts in violation of basic principles of fair trial and contrary to core judicial guarantees of independence and impartiality”, Volker Türk added, calling for the suspension of all executions and a return to a moratorium on death penalty. 

Dealing out death  

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On Wednesday, a military court sentenced at least seven university students to death.  

“Military courts have consistently failed to uphold any degree of transparency contrary to the most basic due process or fair trial guarantees”, underscored Mr. Türk.  

Meanwhile, on Thursday, reports revealed that as many as four additional death sentences were being issued against youth activists.  

The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) is currently seeking clarification on those cases. 

No justice 

In July, the military carried out four State executions – the first in approximately 30 years.  

Despite calls from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the international community to desist, a former lawmaker, a democracy activist, and two others, were put to death. 

Close to 1,700 detainees out of the nearly 16,500 who have been arrested for opposing last year’s military’s coup have been tried and convicted in secret by ad hoc tribunals, sometimes lasting just minutes.  

They have frequently been denied access to lawyers or their families and none have been acquitted. 

The latest convictions would bring the total number of people sentenced to capital punishment since 1 February 2021 to 139 individuals. 

Unaligned with ASEAN 

Mr. Türk reminded that the military’s actions are not in keeping with the ASEAN peace plan, known as the five-point consensus – that includes the “immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar” – which the regional bloc had re-committed to upholding last month during the ASEAN summit. 

At the summit, Secretary-General António Guterres had warned that the political, security, human rights and humanitarian situation in Myanmar was “sliding ever deeper into catastrophe”, condemning the escalating violence, disproportionate use of force, and “appalling human rights situation” in the country. 

Military courts have consistently failed to uphold any degree of transparency – UN rights chief  

“By resorting to use death sentences as a political tool to crush opposition, the military confirms its disdain for the efforts by ASEAN and the international community at large to end violence and create the conditions for a political dialogue to lead Myanmar out of a human rights crisis created by the military” the UN human rights chief spelled out. 

Forced evictions

At the same time, the Myanmar military is forcibly evicting over 50,000 people from informal settlements and systematically destroying homes in what two UN-appointed independent human rights experts called a fundamental violation of core human rights obligations.

Without providing alternative housing or land, last month more than 40,000 residents living in informal settlements throughout Mingaladon, a township in northern Yangon, were evicted – with most given only a few days to dismantle the homes that they had lived in for decades.

After receiving eviction notices, the lack of options swayed some residents to remain while two reportedly committed suicide out of desperation.

“Forced evictions from Mingaladon are only part of the story. Violent arbitrary housing demolitions continue across the country”, the Special Rapporteurs on the right to adequate housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, and situation of human rights in Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, said in a statement.

Rohingya Muslims forced from Myanmar flee to Bangladesh.
UNHCR/Roger Arnold
Rohingya Muslims forced from Myanmar flee to Bangladesh.

'Scorched earth' policy

According to the experts, not only those living in informal settlements in Myanmar’s cities were subjected to forced evictions and housing demolitions.

“Homes continued to be systematically destroyed, bombed and burned down in orchestrated attacks on villages by the Myanmar security forces and junta-backed militias”, they said.

Since the military coup last year, more than 38,000 houses have been destroyed, triggering the widespread displacement of over 1.1 million people.

On 23 November, 95 of 130 houses in the Kyunhla Township were burned down when the Myanmar military set fire to the settlement.

These incidents follow patterns of violence used against Rohingya villages during genocidal attacks in 2017.

“The policies of scorched earth in Myanmar are widespread and follow a systematic pattern,” the experts said.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.