Military activities carried out by Myanmar's powerful minister of home affairs when the country was under army dictatorship could constitute war crimes, a new study has said.

Human rights researchers at Harvard Law School said in the report released on Friday that there was evidence that Home Affairs Minister Ko Ko and two other generals were responsible for the executions, torture and enslavement of civilians by troops during a large-scale offensive against ethnic rebels of the Karen state between 2005 and 2008.

The researchers from the law school's International Human Rights Clinic said that they had details of 66 prosecutable crimes against humanity.

Our agenda is more to start a conversation about these issues

Matthew Bugher, the Global Justice Fellow at Harvard Law School,

Ko Ko is now in command of internal security, overseeing the police force. His two colleagues at the time, Brigadier General Khin Zaw Oo and Brigadier General Maung Maung Aye, have also been promoted to positions of greater responsibility.

Charges against the three men include "the war crimes of attacking civilians, displacing civilians, destroying or seizing the enemy's property, pillage, murder, execution without due process, torture, and outrages upon personal dignity, and the crimes against humanity of forcible transfer of a population, murder, enslavement, torture, and other inhumane acts,'' the report stated.

Matthew Bugher, the Global Justice Fellow at Harvard Law School and principle researcher with the Human Rights Clinic, told Al Jazeera that with the report they were not calling for the prosecution or the referral of Ko Ko, who was head of the army's Southern Command during that offensive, and his two high-ranking colleagues to the International Criminal Court.

"Our agenda is more to start a conversation about these issues," Bugher said via Skype from Myanmar's capital Yangon. "We think that human rights issues have not been considered enough in discussions about transition and reform in Myanmar."

Bugher said that he presented the report to the government and the country's defence ministry and that while there were fundamental differences with the government on how allegations should be addressed, defence officials did not agree on the facts.

Government response

The government responded by saying much of what happens during times of conflict is unavoidable and this is a time to look forward, not back.

Myanmar's military led a large-scale offensive against ethnic rebels of the Karen state between 2005 and 2008 [File: EPA]

"We are going through a democratic transition," Nay Zin Latt, one of the president's political advisers and an ex-army officer told the AP news agency. "Everyone should be encouraging the reform process rather than putting further obstacles along the way."

Bugher said that the Myanmar's reforms, especially the expansion of media freedom, was indeed remarkable. But he added that with President Barack Obama and other world leaders heading to Myanmar for the ASEAN summit next week, he hoped that they would "push for accountability of human rights abuses".

"We urge international leaders not to be swayed by the government's rhetoric that you cannot discuss the military in these conversations," Bugher told Al Jazeera. "We believe you must discuss those things."

The researchers also mentioned in the report that they spent three years collecting information about the government's counterinsurgency efforts in Myanmar's Karen state along the country's eastern border with Thailand.

The Harvard findings come at an especially sensitive time, as a civilian government - which is still dominated by the military - that took power in 2011 grapples with a transition to full democracy after nearly five decades of military rule.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies