Demonstrators protest the military coup in Myanmar

Protesters demonstrate against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar on December 1, 2021. (Photo: Santosh Krl/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

'Utter Cruelty': UN, Rights Groups Decry Myanmar Junta's Execution of Activists

"These individuals were tried, convicted, and sentenced by a military tribunal without the right of appeal and reportedly without legal counsel."

The United Nations and international human rights groups reacted with alarm and outrage on Monday to news that Myanmar's coup regime has executed four activists, a sharp escalation of its violent crackdown on opponents of military rule.

"These executions amount to arbitrary deprivation of lives and are another example of Myanmar's atrocious human rights record," said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International's regional director. "The four men were convicted by a military court in highly secretive and deeply unfair trials. The international community must act immediately as more than 100 people are believed to be on death row after being convicted in similar proceedings."

"These executions followed grossly unjust and politically motivated military trials."

First reported by Myanmar's state-controlled media, the executions were believed to be the first carried out in the country in more than three decades. Those put to death were Phyo Zeya Thaw, Kyaw Min Yu (also known as Ko Jimmy), Hla Myo Aung, and Aung Thura Zaw; the first two were convicted on terrorism charges while the latter two were convicted of killing an alleged military informant.

Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur for Myanmar, said in a statement that "these individuals were tried, convicted, and sentenced by a military tribunal without the right of appeal and reportedly without legal counsel, in violation of international human rights law."

"These depraved acts must be a turning point for the international community," said Andrews. "What more must the junta do before the international community is willing to take strong action? The widespread and systematic murders of protesters, indiscriminate attacks against entire villages, and now the execution of opposition leaders demands an immediate and firm response by member states of the United Nations."

Andrews and rights groups have implored countries to cut off the flow of weapons to Myanmar's military regime, which seized power last year in a reversal of the nation's recent steps toward democracy and civilian government. Rights advocates have also demanded that the international community increase diplomatic pressure on the junta, which has killed more than 2,000 demonstrators since last year.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a nonprofit working for the release of all political prisoners in Myanmar, the military regime has sentenced 117 people to death over the past year.

Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Monday that "the Myanmar junta's execution of four men was an act of utter cruelty."

"These executions, including of activist Ko Jimmy and opposition lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw, followed grossly unjust and politically motivated military trials," said Pearson. "This horrific news was compounded by the junta's failure to notify the men's families, who learned about the executions through the junta's media reports."

"The junta's barbarity and callous disregard for human life aims to chill the anti-coup protest movement," Pearson added. "European Union member states, the United States, and other governments should show the junta that there will be a reckoning for its crimes. They should demand immediate measures, including the release of all political prisoners, and let the junta know the atrocities it commits have consequences."

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