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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


Judgement at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials
Tim Maga

Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 2001
200 pp. Biblio. Index. Hb.: $25; ISBN 0-8131-2177-9

Contemporary scholarly attention focuses much less on the Tokyo trails than on Nuremberg and much of that attention is somewhat critical of the ?victor?s justice? side of the affair. With this book the author attempts to cross the political minefield in order to show the relevance of these trials vis--vis today?s development of international criminal law. In doing this, charges of ?racism? and ?vengeance? are answered with detailed accounts of the efforts in Tokyo, Guam and elsewhere to deliver due process. These accounts are the product of extensive research into the records of proceedings and come supported by an extensive bibliography. A chapter looking at the question whether justice was served suggests that the appropriate place for a 'rush to judgement' charge is only during the last weeks of work in the Far East?s military tribunals. The final chapter looks at the legacy of the trials from the perspective of prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Cambodia and the endeavours to set up the International Criminal Court.

Like Nuremberg, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East represented Allied interests. Chief prosecutor Joseph Keenan argued that ?[t]here is much to be learnt from the International War Crimes Trials in Tokyo of the American plan for getting along with other people.? (p. 70). The political challenge wherein the trials had to succeed was for war-influenced perceptions based on racism and cultural misunderstanding to be replaced by respect and consideration in post-war U.S.-Japan relations. The author uses illustrative examples to show the tension between being seen as acting culturally sensitive and being perceived as racially biased. These examples include the decisions not to prosecute Emperor Hirohito, not to allow lengthy defence arguments on nuances of translations between English and Japanese, to leave the issue of burials of war victims and war criminals within the ambit of the U.S. Military, not to comply with the Philippines? request to transfer Japanese detainees convicted of atrocities in the Philippines to serve jail in the latter and not to compile a second list of possible war crimes defendants for prosecution in domestic courts across the pacific region. None of these decisions were free from ethnical conflict and the author?s endeavour is to place these in their proper context.

Next to highlighting the ethnical dynamics in post-war criminal trials, this book illustrates the practical necessity for a standing tribunal such as the Internal Criminal Court.

Frankie Jenkins, Human Rights Committee of South Africa

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