Retentionist or Abolitionist De Facto
Number of Individuals On Death Row
At least nine, but very likely significantly more.
Exact data on the number of persons on death row in Myanmar is unavailable. In January 2014, President Thein Sein commuted all of the country’s death sentences to life imprisonment. During the course of 2014, Myanmar courts imposed at least one new death sentence.
In 2015, at least 17 death sentences were imposed. In January 2016, 77 death sentences were commuted by the President’s Office. The discrepancy in reported death sentences and commutations suggests incomplete information on the true number of death sentences issued per year.
In 2016, at least three death sentences were imposed. In 2017, at least two death sentences were reported and no executions were held. In April 2018, President Win Myint commuted the sentences of at least two people on death row. By the end of 2018, there were 9 new death sentences.
(This question was last updated on May 30, 2019.).
Annual Number of Reported Executions in Last Decade
Is there an official moratorium on executions?
Myanmar’s junta has not carried out executions since 1988 and, despite continuing to pronounce death sentences, has made statements to Amnesty International that it will not carry out executions. However, Myanmar has opposed United Nations resolutions for a global moratorium on the death penalty. In light of the junta’s assurances to Amnesty International and its long record of non-execution, its opposition to the U.N. resolution could signify nothing more than resolve that Myanmar will abolish the death penalty in its own time frame. But we are unaware of any clearly official de jure moratorium on executions.
Does the country’s constitution mention capital punishment?
Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution should now be in effect as planned because the November 7, 2010 elections did take place. The current status of Myanmar’s constitution is unclear—the 2008 Constitution does not go into effect until elections scheduled for 2010. The 1947 Constitution contained no direct protection of the right to life; the 1974 junta-imposed Constitution also contained no such protection. In 1988, a new junta seized power; by 1993, this junta began considering new constitutional principles. In 1993, the National Convention laid out 103 constitutional principles, none of which directly addressed the right to life; by 2007, the Convention had not yet developed any principle addressing the right to life. The condition of Myanmar’s constitution is now somewhat, though not wholly, improved. Under Articles 353 and 373 of the 2008 Constitution, an individual cannot be deprived of life except in execution of a law existing at the time of the offense. This right may be weakened by Article 382 of the Constitution, which allows legislation to strip away fundamental rights under certain circumstances.
Offenses Punishable by Death
Drug Trafficking Not Resulting in Death.
Drug trafficking, import or export, facilitation of same, or production, distribution, and sale of drugs is punishable by death. The penalty is mandatory if the offender is a recidivist, part of a criminal organization, uses arms or explosives, uses children under the age of 16 or uses the influence of a public servant in carrying out the offense.
Other Offenses Not Resulting in Death.
- Assault by a person under a life sentence, causing harm, and also assault with the intention to murder, causing only harm, is punishable by death.
- Committing a crime punishable by at least four years imprisonment in the course of human trafficking is punishable by death.
In February 2018, the government of Myanmar released a new National Drug Control Policy incorporating international best practices outlined in the 2016 Outcome Document of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. The new policy introduces a human rights-based approach to drug control and recommends considering the repeal of the death penalty for drug offenses.
Terrorism-related offenses are likely prosecuted as treason against the state.
Does the country have a mandatory death penalty?
Which offenses carry a mandatory death sentence, if any?
Drug Trafficking Not Resulting in Death.
Drug trafficking, import or export, facilitation of same, or production of drugs carries the mandatory death penalty if the offender is a recidivist, part of a criminal organization, uses arms or explosives, uses children under the age of 16 or uses the influence of a public servant in carrying out the offense.
Drug possession is presumed to be in the course of trafficking if scheduled quantities of drugs are found; drug trafficking carries the mandatory death penalty if the offender is a recidivist, part of a criminal organization, uses arms or explosives, uses children under the age of 16 or uses the influence of a public servant in carrying out the offense.
Categories of Offenders Excluded From the Death Penalty
Nothing is an offense when done by a person who because of unsoundness of mind is incapable of knowing the nature of the act or its wrongness or criminality at the time it is done. Insane individuals cannot stand trial. We do not know whether executions are stayed if the individual becomes insane after sentencing."
We did not find a national law specifically prohibiting the execution of offenders for crimes committed while below the age of 18. Myanmar is party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and has withdrawn its reservations. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concern that individuals between the ages of 16 and 18 can face some adult penalties. Reportedly, in 2009 Myanmar courts sentenced a child soldier to death for the murder of another child soldier.
Offenses For Which Individuals Have Been Executed In the Last Decade
Have there been any significant published cases concerning the death penalty in national courts?
Reports by the Asian Legal Resources Centre, the Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, and Amnesty International conclude that Myanmar does not have a judiciary in any meaningful sense; instead, the judiciary is an administrative body of the junta-controlled executive, which wields unchecked power. The courts apply laws as dictated by the executive but do not engage in independent review of laws to protect human rights; courts essentially convict and sentence at the direction of the executive and the paramilitary police force. In capital cases, the courts have convicted defendants of high treason despite minimal or nonexistent relevance of the reported facts to the crime of high treason as defined by law. Myanmar’s courts do not currently generate independent jurisprudence.
The 2008 constitution, which will be effective upon the next election (projected for November 2010), provides for appellate review of Constitutional questions by the Supreme Court and for the ultimate jurisdiction of the Constitutional Tribunal on constitutional questions. The 2008 Constitution provides for some, though not comprehensive, protection of fundamental human rights. The constitution most recently in effect was a 1974 junta-imposed document; by 1993, a new junta (which seized power in 1988) began promulgating through a National Convention proposed principles that form the basis of the 2008 Constitution. The ambiguity as to the current state of the Constitution supports assertions that, currently, there are no normative constitutional principles for a judiciary to enforce.
Does the country’s constitution make reference to international law?
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
Date of Signature
Date of Accession
First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, Recognizing Jurisdiction of the Human Rights Committee
Date of Signature
Date of Accession
American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR)
Death Penalty Protocol to the ACHR
DPP to ACHR Party?
DPP to ACHR Signed?
African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR)
Protocol to the ACHPR on the Rights of Women in Africa
ACHPR Women Party?
ACHPR Women Signed?
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
ACHPR Child Party?
ACHPR Child Signed?
Arab Charter on Human Rights
Arab Charter on Human Rights
Arab Charter Party?
Arab Charter Signed?
Comments and Decisions of the U.N. Human Rights System
Comments and Decisions of Regional Human Rights Systems
The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of human rights in Myanmar is scheduled for January 2011: http://www.upr-info.org/-Myanmar-.html.
Availability of Lawyers for Indigent Defendants at Trial
The U.S. Department of State reports that in capital cases defendants are legally guaranteed an attorney at state expense; the context of the discussion suggests that for common criminal offenses (such as for murder) this right is probably respected. In political cases (such as treason), this right is probably infrequently respected or of no relevance because the issue of guilt is pre-determined.
Availability of Lawyers for Indigent Defendants on Appeal
Quality of Legal Representation
The Judiciary Law of 2000 renames courts but does not clearly specify which courts have original jurisdiction in capital cases or set forth the appellate process for a capital case. The hierarchy of courts is: (1) Supreme Court; (2) State or Divisional Court; (3) District Court; (4) Township Court. Appeals lie to the immediately superior court. Our reading of the law is that only the District Court or the State or Divisional Court may initially try a capital case and pronounce a death sentence; whereupon the Supreme Court must confirm the death sentence or uphold an appeal against it. Appellate review by the Supreme Court is automatic. Reports from some resources suggest that the Law on the Judiciary allows for broad exceptions to these procedures. From our reading of the Law, we cannot ascertain whether these exceptions are set forth in the Law itself (we did not find them), or whether executive interference with a non-independent judiciary prevents the judiciary from interpreting and following the Law.
Under Article 54 of the Penal Code, the President may commute the offender’s sentence to any other punishment provided by the Code. In the 2008 Constitution, this power is retained by the President, who may grant a pardon or, in accordance with the recommendations of the National Defense and Security Council, grant an amnesty.
Systemic Challenges in the Criminal Justice System
Mainly, death sentences over the past decade have been pronounced for political crimes, many of which have been non-violent or even non-criminal exercises of free speech. Amnesty International observes that pre-trial detention is marked by torture and denial of access to attorneys; individuals may be charged and tried on the same day for a serious offense, denying counsel adequate time to prepare a defense; that trials are often perfunctory; that courts make use of evidence obtained by torture; that trials are conducted in secret; and that courts are not independent. Individuals who run afoul of the junta’s interests may face capital charges for high treason and are, in practice, stripped of any meaningful safeguards against arbitrary deprivation of life by the junta. (These may be observations about those charged with political offenses; reportedly, those charged with ordinary offenses may be treated differently. Systematic torture is a serious problem; the government does not permit defense attorneys or impartial observers at interrogations, and the government response to allegations of torture is that such allegations cannot be taken seriously since there is no way to corroborate them. The reports of other non-governmental organizations confirm this situation, especially with regard to the absence of protections that could be afforded by an independent judiciary if one existed in Myanmar and pervasive abuses such as torture by security forces.
Where Are Death-Sentenced Prisoners incarcerated?
Description of Prison Conditions
The U.S. Department of State reports that prison conditions in Myanmar are harsh and life threatening, with limited access to basic needs and medical care. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, reported in 2010 that in Insein Prison (and other locations) extortion by prison staff and inadequate water and food rations were problems and that prisoners held hunger strikes in protest of inadequate medical care and a lack of reading and writing materials. While we do not know the extent to which substandard conditions are faced by those under sentence of death, prisoners in general are exposed to an environment in which torture, deaths from torture, other physical, psychological and sexual abuse, deliberately substandard medical care, deprivation of food and water as punishment, and other inherently life-threatening conditions are common.
Foreign Nationals Known to Be on Death Row
Unclear. We did not find reports on the nationalities of foreigners held on death row.
What are the nationalities of the known foreign nationals on death row?
We did not find reports on the nationalities of foreigners held on death row.
Women Known to Be on Death Row
We did not find reports on women held under sentence of death.
Juvenile Offenders Known to Be on Death Row
Racial / Ethnic Composition of Death Row
We have found no reports specifically documenting the racial or ethnic composition of death row. It is worth noting, however, that the junta in Myanmar carries out a policy of ethnic oppression; ethnic Rohingyas, Shan, Karen, Karenni and other groups that have historically sought a higher level of autonomy from the Myanmar majority are persecuted. Because these ethnic groups represent the last remnants of armed resistance to the illegal junta in Myanmar, individuals from these groups may be prosecuted for treason or terrorism. (According to our research, over the recent past treason is the crime for which death sentences are usually pronounced in Myanmar. )
Our research also suggests that the situation of the junta and the insurgency in Myanmar is ambiguous. Both the illegal junta and insurgent forces are reported to fund operations through the drug trade, both are reported to use forced civilian labor and child soldiers; the junta engages in oppression and state terrorism against its population, while insurgent forces reportedly engage in terrorist attacks that kill innocent civilians.
Prosecutions for political crimes in Myanmar are arbitrary and both overbroad and under-inclusive; the junta-controlled courts pronounce sentences against individuals who have not been shown to have any connection to violent insurgent attacks underlying prosecutions; these same courts do not entertain actions against junta personnel who commit acts of violence against civilians and participate in systematic state terror, including torture, rape, displacement, and lethal violence, against the population. Often, the only clear factor in prosecution for a political offense is the accused person’s personal association with a disfavored group. Prosecution for political crimes cannot be brought except by order of the executive.
Recent Developments in the Application of the Death Penalty
In 1993, Myanmar expanded the death penalty to apply to drug trafficking; in 2005, it expanded the death penalty to apply to human trafficking. There has been no reported execution of a death sentence since 1988.
Our research suggests that over the past decade death sentences have mainly been pronounced for political offenses, a significant fraction of which have been non-violent.
In application, Myanmar’s junta-controlled courts have expanded the scope of the death-eligible offense of high treason. While death-eligible high treason is defined as waging, preparing to wage or instigating actual war against the actual nation of Myanmar, the junta controlled courts have applied the death penalty to a broader range of “high treason.” Under the junta, “high treason” has been applied against families with economic interests contrary to the junta’s, against individuals who happen to have had contact with rebels, and against individuals who exercise free speech. The predominant factor in a capital conviction for high treason is that of a perceived threat to the junta’s power. Nevertheless, the current junta has committed to a policy of non-execution of death sentences and has not executed anyone since taking power in 1988.
Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2020 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2018 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2016 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2016 Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation
2014 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2012 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2010 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2008 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
Member(s) of World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
Other Groups and Individuals Engaged in Death Penalty Advocacy
PO Box 72054
London EC3P 3BZ
Tel 020 7553 8140
Fax 020 7553 8189
Where are judicial decisions reported?
Helpful Reports and Publications
Amnesty Intl., Myanmar—The Administration of Justice: Grave and Abiding Concerns, p. 20-25, ASA 16/001/2004, Mar. 31, 2004.
The website of the Burma Lawyers’ Council was a useful starting point in researching the state and development of the law in Myanmar, a subject that is somewhat unclear: http://www.blc-burma.org/.
Additional notes regarding this country