Myanmar: IBA Calls for Release of Detained Lawyers


The International Bar Association has strongly condemned the systematic destruction by the junta in Myanmar of people’s legal protections, including the right to life, freedom of expression, assembly, association, privacy, legal representation of one’s choice and a fair trial. The IBA called for the restoration of citizens’ rights, and for the release of detained protestors and defence Lawyers.

In a statement the global body of Lawyers said: ‘The arrests of legal professionals attempting to represent arbitrarily detained protestors, who were peacefully demonstrating against the 1 February, 2021 military coup d’état, contravenes international law and norms, including the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. The actions are of deep concern to the IBA, as is the appropriating of law to fit the junta’s agenda’.

IBA President Sternford Moyo commented: ‘The IBA supports and applauds the Lawyers in Myanmar trying to uphold the rule of law, while it is disregarded by the junta at every turn. On the streets, citizens are being murdered by security forces with impunity. Mobile phone footage shows first responders taken from ambulances and beaten with the butts of guns, by men wearing uniforms that should represent protection for citizens. Civil liberties are being cast aside with irreverence and brutality is meted out with alarming consistency. Yet, armed only with professionalism and moral courage, Lawyers are turning up at Police stations to defend the detained. Despite sometimes jeopardising their own liberty and safety, Lawyers are holding to the professional oaths they took (in relation to Lawyers). The IBA admires them, and calls on Lawyers everywhere to show support for peers in Myanmar’.

The de facto leader of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy Party (NLD), State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, along with the NLD’s President Win Myint, have been detained by the military junta since the beginning of the coup when its leader, General Min Aung Hlaing declared, without evidence, that the result of the 2020 elections, won by the NLD, to be fraudulent. Criminal proceedings brought against Ms Suu Kyi include the alleged illegal possession of imported walkie-talkies.

IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis commented: ‘The reports of some Lawyers, law students and journalists being arrested or forced into hiding because they have become targets of the junta in Myanmar, speaks plainly to a regime without merit. When the most basic rights of citizens are curtailed, that regime knows it is without legitimate standing. Today, with the military junta in Myanmar, we have such a situation. To provide itself and its actions with a veneer of legitimacy, it is now tampering with the country’s laws; ironically, an act which itself is illegal, as the coup is illegitimate. The amending of Myanmar’s Penal Code to make criminals out of protestors who are demonstrating against the military takeover, deserves all the international derision that it is attracting. The repressive legislation is an affront to the rule of law, and designed to destroy Myanmar’s nascent democracy’.

Together with the IBA’s Human Rights Institute – which had an international legal specialist in Yangon for three years (2014–2016) to facilitate the development of a representative Bar Association – Myanmar’s legal profession established an independent National Bar Association with local consensus, to promote and protect the interests of the legal profession in Myanmar, to promote reform of the rules regulating the legal profession in Myanmar, and to strengthen the capacity of the Bar to function independently and democratically, as a representative professional body mandated to promote and protect the rule of law in Myanmar.

Dr Ellis added: ‘Our support for our colleagues in Myanmar is unflinching, and we remind the junta of Principle 16 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which states that environments must be conducive to Lawyers being able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference, and shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics’.

Mr. Moyo concluded: ‘Nothing can excuse the blatant murder of a nations’ civilian population, by its own security forces. The head of the military, gave election fraud as the reason for the takeover in Myanmar. Perversely, the brutality of the troops under his command who have rounded up peaceful protestors with live ammunition, killing or arbitrarily detaining them and the Lawyers who bravely seek to defend the confined, would appear justifiable in his world view. The IBA applauds the European Union and United States levying sanctions against the individuals and groups linked to the coup, and the statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar’.