Penny Wong has joined international peers in condemning reports that pro-democracy advocates and members of Myanmar’s political opposition had been executed by the country’s military regime.
Four men were executed this week, according to reports by local paper The Global New Light of Myanmar. Those put to death included former hip-hop artist and former MP Phyo Zeya Thaw, democracy figure (Ko Jimmy) Kyaw Min Yu, Hla Myo Aung, and Aung Thura Zaw.
Australia’s foreign minister issued a joint statement on Tuesday with the High Representative on behalf of the European Union, and her ministerial peers from Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Korea, the UK and the US.
The group condemned what it said were ‘reprehensible acts of violence’ by the junta against four pro-democracy activists – Myanmar’s first executions in decades. It also offered condolences to the families of those who had been put to death.
“Our thoughts and condolences are with the bereaved families and loved ones as they grieve those unjustly put to death,” the statement said.
“We remember and mourn all lives lost in Myanmar in the aftermath of the coup.”
Deadly civil unrest has been a feature of life in Myanmar ever since the military junta seized power in a coup last year.
The four men were charged under the counter-terrorism law and were sentenced to death in closed-door trials in January and April. Appeals for the court rulings on sentencing were dismissed in June.
According to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), the last judicial executions in Myanmar occurred in the late 80s.
In a statement, Greens senator and foreign affairs spokesperson Jordan Steele-John said more extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and serious crackdowns on the freedom of expression in Myanmar continued. He pointed to estimates that since February 2021, more than 2,000 civilians have been killed and 14,000 people arrested since the Tatmadaw overthrew the government.
Those figures compare to an update shared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which said at least 114 people have been sentenced to death in Myanmar – including 41 in absentia – in closed, summary proceedings before military tribunals since last February.
“It has been revealed that the Australian embassy has spent $750,000 at a luxury hotel linked to the junta,” Steele-John said.
“Rather than uniting in solidarity with the people of Myanmar, the previous [Coalition] government has effectively been funding the war against them. This is embarrassing, unjustifiable and inexcusable.”
The WA senator called for Anthony Albanese, Wong and the new Labor government to impose more targeted sanctions against leaders of Myanmar’s military junta.
“Countries including the US, UK, Canada and countries in the EU have already acted,” Steele-John said.
“We must not continue to fail the people of Myanmar.”
Wong and her international counterparts said the recent executions exemplified the regime’s disregard for human rights and the rule of law during a time of deadly repercussions for any citizen who protested or fought back against the military junta.
“We urge the regime to release all those unjustly detained, grant full and independent access to prisons and fulfil its obligations under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) five-point consensus to seek peace through dialogue, not further violence,” they said.
Also calling for Australia to take a stronger position on the Tatmadaw’s use of the death penalty is the Law Council of Australia (LCA).
The peak body for lawyers has warned any executions carried out by the Tatmadaw following a conviction by the junta’s tribunals amounted to an arbitrary deprivation of life.
“[We have] consistently engaged with the Human Rights Council and UN Special Mandate Holders in relation to threats to the rule of law in Myanmar,” LCA president Tass Liveris said.
“The LCA’s opposition to the imposition or the carrying out of the death penalty is absolute, on the basis that it is fundamentally incompatible with the realisation or fulfilment of both the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” he said.
The LCA raised the issue at the 50th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council with Morris Tidball-Binz, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
Liveris went on to say the LCA supported Australia’s Strategy for Abolition of the Death Penalty, and noted the Myanmar military’s use of executions was taking place with limited to no transparency.
“The death penalty [sic] is particularly egregious in the case of political prisoners and where verdicts have been obtained through the use of military courts and secret trials,” he said.