Launch report on Myanmar by Human Rights Watch: “Our Numbers Are Dwindling”
21 June 2023

Launch report on Myanmar by Human Rights Watch: “Our Numbers Are Dwindling”


Lawyers for Lawyers is concerned about the situation of lawyers in Myanmar. Since the military coup – that took place on February 1, 2021 – dozens of lawyers are being held back by the State Administration Council (SAC) junta in doing their job: they face restrictions and systematic obstacles imposed by military authorities. Even worse, the lawyers themselves have faced arbitrary arrest, prosecution and ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch reported in a comprehensive research report published June 8, 2023, called “Our Numbers Are Dwindling”.

According to the report, thousands of people have been arbitrarily detained and wrongfully convicted since the military coup in February 2021. The aggression and violence used by the junta is said to be amounting to crimes against humanity.

Myanmar-based lawyers are doing every effort to provide the detained with a fair trial. However, the junta imposes systematic obstacles and restrictions impeding the lawyers’ work. Also, some of the lawyers are themselves targeted for threats, arbitrary arrest, detention, prosecution and even torture and other ill-treatment. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported that as of April 2023, at least 32 lawyers are in detention. Several lawyers now released from prison state about ill-treatment and torture in prison.

Lawyers defending protesters in political cases are especially vulnerable to being targeted by the military or police. One lawyer mentioned that prior to her arrest, police and a township judge threatened her not to take on political cases. Lawyers further have been arrested during, or shortly after attending hearings where they represented political cases. Lawyers not (yet) arrested are under heavy surveillance linked to their legal defence in politically sensitive cases.

In the “special courts” created by the junta (closed courts inside prisons) lawyers are often denied or limited access to their clients, according to interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch. In 47 townships of Myanmar the junta has imposed martial law and has installed military tribunals, often located in prisons. The trials are disorganized and chaotic and often only a few lawyers are allowed to represent hundreds of defendants. Sometimes defendants are even completely deprived of their right to a lawyer and a fair trial. The criminal justice system is in a state of chaos, with the junta having revised numerous laws and having expanded the scope of several laws. This has led to the further erosion of the already minimal human rights protections existing in Myanmar. One lawyer interviewed for the report stated:

“In a courtroom, I now have to worry about not getting myself detained rather than speaking the truth. This is especially true when I have to represent political cases. Everyone at the court knows who I am, and the court has all my credentials and personal information. The SAC [military junta] can detain me at any time, and they can and will make up any reasons they want.”

-Yangon-based lawyer, October 11, 2022

The threatening and harassment of lawyers has been so grave that few are still willing to take the risk and continue their work. One of the lawyers interviewed by Human Rights Watch concluded: “Our numbers are dwindling.” Lawyers for Lawyers will keep monitoring the situation of lawyers in Myanmar.




Meer nieuws uit Myanmar