Three commanders from Myanmar’s former military junta have been accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity by a group of Harvard Law School researchers.
The findings from a four-year investigation, provide enough evidence to justify arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court, according to the researchers.
The atrocities covered by the investigation were carried out in 2005 and 2006 during an assault against ethnic rebels near the eastern border with Thailand.
Those responsible “continue to serve at the highest levels of the country’s government,” said the authors of the 77-page legal memorandum.
They include Major General Ko Ko, now the Home Affairs Minister, Brigadier General Khin Zaw Oo, who now commands the Bureau of Special Operations, and General Maung Maung Aye, who is rumored to have retired from his position as a regional commander.
They are accused of responsibility for crimes including torture, murder, firing mortars at villages to force civilians to flee, and the use of widespread forced civilian labor during the assault against Karen National Liberation Army rebels.
All three men were promoted after the offensive.
“We’re concerned that the commanders who oversaw these egregious abuses have a prominent place in the military and the government,” said Matthew Bugher, one of the report’s authors, at a press conference Friday in Myanmar’s main city of Yangon.
“We think that calls into question the sincerity of the reforms.”
Myanmar was considered a pariah state by much of the world until 2011, when the military junta ushered in a nominally civilian government made up of former generals.
Since then, there have been sweeping democratic reforms, but that has not included any attempt to bring the perpetrators of human rights abuses from the former junta to justice.
The deputy minister of defense, Kyaw Nyunt, said the findings in the report were “one-sided and inaccurate” during a meeting Wednesday in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, according to Bugher.
He added that his team was not calling for prosecution or arrests, but rather hoping their research would encourage a national and international discussion on how to deal with Myanmar’s legacy of violence and oppression.
The researchers also hope that by identifying individual commanders, they will deter other military officials from committing abuses, especially as evidence of rights violations continue to emerge in ethnic areas including eastern Shan and northern Kachin states.
Myanmar’s government is pushing for a nationwide ceasefire with major ethnic rebel groups, but sporadic bouts of fighting have continued.
In Karen, flare-ups have persisted despite rebels signing an agreement with the government in 2012.
Military impunity remains almost unchallenged in Myanmar.
In recent weeks, the killing of local journalist Par Gyi in military custody has sparked street protests and calls from Britain and the United States for an investigation.