Researchers hope tracking senior Myanmar army officers can ascertain blame for human rights abuses

FILE – An alphabet book and a notebook lie on top of an elevated wooden floorboard of a middle school in Let Yet Kone village in Tabayin township in the Sagaing region of Myanmar on Sept. 17, 2022, the day after an air strike hit the school. A group of human rights researchers officially launched a website Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023 that they hope will help get justice for victims of state violence in Myanmar, where one of the world’s less-noticed but still brutal armed struggles is taking place.

But it’s harder to establish who is responsible for such crimes, especially generals and other high-ranking officers behind the scenes who make the plans and give the orders.

“This is one of the pieces of the jigsaw that has up until now been missing in terms of accountability — demonstrating how the system works and that these abuses are not just the result of rogue units or individual soldiers,” he said.

He said the study also shows the officer with the most links to serious human rights violations is Gen. Mya Htun Oo, who became defense minister and a member of the ruling military council when the army seized power in 2021. He also became deputy prime minister in 2023.

“Establishing the command structures of militaries and other groups involved in atrocities is the lifeblood of properly conducting investigations into international crimes,” Mark Kersten, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Canada’s University of the Fraser Valley, said in an email to The Associated Press.

Since 2021, evidence-gathering groups have formed in Myanmar, including Myanmar Witness, an NGO that seeks to “collect, analyse, verify and store evidence related to human rights incidents … in a way that is compatible with future human rights prosecutions.”

He said the project relied on open-source information drawn from the work of national and international human rights organizations and local activists, as well as books, independent newspapers and the military’s own media outlets.

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