Myanmar’s Home Minister Ko Ko and two current senior military commanders may have committed war crimes when serving under the previous military junta, according to a study by Harvard Law School which says it has uncovered evidence linking them to executions, torture and other atrocities.
The report, issued by the school’s Institutional Human Rights Clinic on Friday, said the three-year study found enough evidence to issue arrest warrants for Ko Ko and Brigadier General Khin Zaw Oo and General Maung Maung Aye to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
Ko Ko was the leader of the Southern Command then while Khin Zaw Oo, the current commander of the Bureau of Special Operations, and General Maung Maung Aye, most recently the Naypyidaw Regional Commander, were also senior officials in the junta, accused of brutal campaigns against armed ethnic rebel groups.
The Harvard report’s findings were based on more than 150 interviews with people in Myanmar and along the Myanmar-Thailand border, including former government troops, who witnessed the junta’s 2005-2006 counterinsurgency in southeastern Myanmar’s Kayin [Karen] state.
It cited instances of soldiers forcibly removing and relocating civilians from conflict zones, firing mortars on villages, shooting at fleeing villagers, destroying homes, crops and food stores, laying landmines in civilian areas, enslaving villagers to work as porters, and capturing and executing civilians.
The report said under international law, the three military leaders could be held accountable for their actions as well as crimes committed by troops under their command and control.
“These are serious allegations that demand a determined, good faith response by the Myanmar government and military,” said Tyler Giannini, the Harvard Law School professor who is co-director of the International Human Rights Clinic, in a statement. “The abuses perpetrated by the military have been too widespread, too persistent, and too grave to be ignored.
Aung Thein, a Myanmar lawyer, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the International Criminal Court, rather than courts in Myanmar, would have to deal with any rampant human rights violations classified under war crimes.
“The international community is more responsible for investigating these kinds of happenings,” he said.
Khin Maung Swe, chairman of the opposition National Democratic Front (NDF) party, told RFA that the report exposed the atrocities of the military.
“Although these kinds of civil wars took place long before the current government, with the country now opening up and in transition, [their actions] have become widely known,” he said.
But Aye Maung, deputy chairman of the Rakhine National Party, which rules the communal violence-hit western states of Rakhine, warned that anything that might prevent the country’s progress with transitioning to democracy should be kept out of the limelight for now.
“Political leaders have a duty to be cautious and analyze things carefully, but then again we have a duty to inform the public of the real situation,” he told RFA. “Since we don’t know the details, it’s hard to discuss and make conclusions about the alleged involvement of the named persons.”
“On the other hand, the government also has a responsibility [to inform] the public because in the past it assumed the public was not aware of things and blocked out the news,” he said.
The country’s previous military junta under the leadership of Senior General Than Shwe had been accused of blatant human rights abuses.
There had been calls in the past that military commanders from that era be tried in the International Criminal Court.
But Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s current military chief, has rejected the charges that the army committed war crimes during the country’s five decades of military rule.
He has maintained that the military had abided by the Geneva Convention, which established international law standards for the humanitarian treatment of civilians and prisoners of war during conflicts.
The Harvard report comes as international heads of state prepare to meet in Myanmar next week for two high-level political summits.
It also follows the killing of a journalist under military custody last month.
Doctors who performed an autopsy of slain journalist Aung Kyaw Naing—also known as Par Gyi—said he died from five gunshot wounds, although his wife and others believe he was tortured.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Defense has claimed that government soldiers shot dead Aung Kyaw Naing while he tried to reach for a soldier's gun during an attempted escape.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nyein Shwe. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.