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【Shanghai Daily】Scholars Ponder Meaning of Tokyo Trial

November 22, 2016      Author: Xu Qin

THIS year marks the 70th anniversary of the opening of the Tokyo Trial. About 30 professors of law and history from Japan, New Zealand, the UK and the US joined Chinese scholars and experts with the Center for Tokyo Trial Studies at Shanghai's Jiao Tong University at a recent two-day forum in Shanghai.

During the event, participants called for a reappraisal of the trial, which was convened in 1946 to try leaders of the Empire of Japan for war crimes committed during WWII, as well as their significance to world peace today.

Among the attendees was 95-year-old Gao Wenbin, who is one of only two living members of the 17-member delegation of Chinese judges and prosecutors who represented China at the trial of Japanese war criminals at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.

"History should never be forgotten and facts shouldn't be distorted," said the former translator and secretary at the opening of the forum. He added that he hoped to see the construction of a proposed memorial hall in Shanghai dedicated to the trial.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi also addressed the forum through a pre-recorded video, expressing his concerns about the Abe administration, which "sees China as its imaginary enemy and tries to suppress China, relying on military forces in Japan with its US ally, as well as the nuclear deterrence of the US."

"Instead of treating each other as enemies, the best way for Japan and China to guarantee their security is to establish long-term peace and friendship and to build a solid relationship in which both sides trust each other," Tomiichi said. He further appealed to young people from both countries to communicate more for the peace and development of Asia.

In the discussions that followed, historians and jurists known for their studies of the Tokyo Trial exchanged their opinions and raised questions concerning its nature, design, historical significance and legal legacies at six panel discussions held over the weekend forum.


Foundation for world peace

"Seventy years have passed since the end of WWII. Though regional armed conflicts still rage in many parts of the world, most of the world is at peace. We now enjoy a much greater level of stability with few inter-state wars than ever before. The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials laid the very foundation for this attempt to achieve world peace since the war's end," said Cheng Zhaoqi, head of the Center for Tokyo Trial Studies at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Founded in 2011, the center is the first academic research institution devoted to the trial. It intends to engage scholars of history, law, and international relations in the study of the proceedings.

Over recent years, as new materials have been found, translated and compared, "we can clearly see it [Tokyo Trial] as a milestone in the development of international law and in the advancement of humanity. All humans have flaws. Even if some might like to call it 'victor's justice,' it was justice demanded for war victims under stringent judicial procedures," said Cheng, who has been studying the records for many years.

This was the largest and longest trial in human history, and drew participation from more countries than any other similar set of proceedings. More evidence was presented during the trial than any other in history.

The Tokyo Trial charged high-ranking political and military leaders from Japan with conventional war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity. It lasted more than two and a half years - 817 court sessions were opened and 419 people were called as court witnesses.

As many as 4,336 pieces of evidence were admitted (including depositions and affidavits from 779 other individuals), and 48,412 pages of trial transcripts were recorded.

It took the prosecutors 192 days to present the case, submitting evidence in 15 phases. In November 1948, the verdicts and sentences were announced finally, which took seven days. Twenty-five Class-A criminals were found guilty and seven were sentenced to death. The total cost of the trials amounted to as much as US$750 million at that time.

A Tokyo Trail Database has been founded by the center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the university press is facilitating academic and research collaborations in the digital era.


Forum participants share their views

TOTANI Yuma, History Department, Hawaii University

The Tokyo Trial was meant to reveal the Japanese war crimes in many Asian and Pacific countries during the period of Japanese militarism. It also proposed to hold individuals responsible for acts of states, which was unprecedented in the history of war crimes trials.

To seek individual criminal responsibility is an important development in modern international law. Everyone should know and abide by the law, including the international law. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

On the other hand, violations against international law are usually committed by individuals in their capacity as organs of the state, which is just an abstract corporate body. Only by punishing individual war criminals, can we ensure the implementation of international law.


Nakazato Nariaki, Institute of Oriental Culture, Tokyo University

It is obviously a limiting approach to look at the Tokyo Trial through the perspective of Judge Pal (the Indian jurist at the trials who produced a 1,235-page judgment in which he dismissed the legitimacy of the proceedings as "victor's justice"). The so-called "victor's justice," which came to be the accepted and dominant school of thought, reflects a lack of retrospection on the war crimes in Japan's postwar history.

That's also the key reason why many Japanese people, to this day, are not genuinely aware of the great harm caused by the actions of Japan during World War II.

It was true that the trial was set up by the Allied countries in Tokyo who had just won the war and Japan's top leaders were made to face trial on charges of waging aggressive war and committing conventional war crimes.

But the tribunal followed a uniform set of procedures and embraced the best evidence rule once the prosecution had rested. The court spent six months reaching the judgment, with five of the 11 justices releasing separate opinions outside the court. All were recorded and put up to be scrutinized in front of the whole world.

The purpose of the Tokyo Trial was to prevent mass atrocities from recurring in the future, to restore and secure world peace. In this sense, they indeed reflected human rationality, civilization and advancement.


Neil Boister, School of Law of University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Upon closer examination people see that, in many ways, the Tokyo Trial's deterrent value was secondary to its retributive function. Although the trial was poorly designed, the Tokyo Trial retained the fundamental virtue of providing a legal basis for action against aggression.

After the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, judging individual responsibility in war crimes has become the norm in the practice of international law. International society has managed to establish several international war crimes tribunals to try individuals accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Tokyo Trial is of great value in understanding the destruction of war so as to prevent future wars.

Source: Shanghai Daily