The Group of Seven (G7) – a coalition of the world’s wealthiest democracies – has joined a chorus of international condemnation following the execution of four pro-democracy activists by Myanmar’s coup leaders.
In a statement on Thursday, the forum, which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, called on the military, which seized power in 2021, to “refrain from further arbitrary executions” and to free all political prisoners.
“These executions, the first in Myanmar in over thirty years, and the absence of fair trials show the junta’s contempt for the unwavering democratic aspirations of the people of Myanmar,” a joint statement by G7 foreign ministers, released by the British government, said.
“We continue to condemn in the strongest terms the military coup in Myanmar and express deep concern about the political, economic, social, humanitarian and human rights situation in the country.”
Myanmar was plunged into crisis when army chief Min Aung Hlaing led a coup against Myanmar’s elected government in February 2021, detaining civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and launching a violent crackdown as protests spread across the Southeast Asian country. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a monitoring group, says more than 2,000 civilians have been killed since the coup, with human rights organisations warning the actual death toll is likely to be much higher.
Now, rights groups warn that the execution of prominent activist Kyaw Min Yu – better known as “Jimmy” – and former legislator Phyo Zeya Thaw, as well as pro-democracy protesters Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zar, could represent a major new escalation in the repression of anti-coup voices.
Amnesty International has said about 100 others are currently on death row after being convicted in secretive military courts.
Myanmar’s military leaders have claimed the executions were “justice for the people”, while rights observers say the men were denied fair trials after being convicted of trumped-up “terrorism” charges. United Nations’ Special Envoy on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer and Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah have called the killings a “crime against humanity”.
On Wednesday, the UN Security Council condemned the executions in a statement endorsed by all 15 members including Russia and China, which have in the past shielded Myanmar at the forum. Russia continues to be a major supplier of weapons to the military and Min Aung Hlaing visited Moscow earlier this month.
The council called for dialogue and reconciliation “in accordance with the will and the interests of the people of Myanmar,” an immediate halt to all violence, respect for human rights and full aid access.
Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), which was established after the military’s power grab by former legislators from Aung San Suu Kyi’s party and others opposed to the coup, welcomed the statement, calling on the council to “take concrete actions against the junta”.
Cambodia, the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) whose prime minister personally appealed for clemency for the convicted men, said the regional grouping was “extremely troubled and deeply saddened” by the executions.
ASEAN and Myanmar, which has been a member of the group since 1997, agreed in April last year a five-point consensus to end the violence. However, the military has no willingness to implement the measures, and military-appointed ministers have been banned from attending ASEAN events.