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Saturday, December 28, 2019

Fundamental legacy of The Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials (1945-1948)

Picture Nuremberg trials.

By Wedyan AlMadani .

These – rather unfortunate – days some voices in Europe are trying, in a quite ahistorical fashion, to question the very fundaments of the antifascist legacy. Dangerous and highly destructive equitation attempts are on the way. Still, this legacy is what finally made the Old continent human and peaceful – a role model to admire and for the rest of us to follow. 

Such regrettable equitations make it worth to revisit the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, which are essential pillars of the Human Rights charter brokered right after under the OUN auspices. Consequently, a very legacy of these trials is extraordinary and far reaching. It represents a core building material of the house called Modern Europe – something that the Director of International Institute IFIMES, Dr. Zijad Becirovic repeatedly stresses in his media appearances, as one of the bold but rather rare voices of the right direction and historical responsibility awareness today. 

Conclusively, the importance of tribunals is hard to overstate. Its reaffirmation today is needed like never since the very end of the WWII.

*                *                      *                      *

Noam Chomsky once said, “For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.” This was not the case for Germany and Japan post-World War II. The victorious Allied powers established the first international criminal tribunals to prosecute political and military officials for war crimes and other atrocities committed during wartime. The four major Allied governments; the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union, set up the International Military Tribunal (Nuremberg trials) in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute and punish the major war criminals of the European Axis. 

The tribunal presided over a combined trial of senior Nazi political and military leaders, as well as several Nazi organizations. The less-recognized International Military Tribunal for the Far East was created (Tokyo trials) in Tokyo, Japan, soon after. The tribunal presided over a series of trials of senior Japanese political and military leaders to prosecute and punish Far Eastern war criminals. The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials differed in several important aspects including their origins, compositions, and jurisdictions. 

     The Allied powers established the policy that international tribunals in Europe and in the Far East after World War II would focus on, most importantly, a decision on individual criminal liability for crimes against peace. It will be a bold step toward organizing an international legal system for discouraging future aggressors and averting the sort of war devastation that the Axis aggression had caused. 

     In June 1945, the day of the signing of the United Nations Charter at the San Francisco Conference, delegations of the US, the UK, France, and the Soviet Union, negotiated in London on the regulating principles for prosecuting war criminals. 

In August 1945, the four major Allied governments signed the 1945 London Agreement, which established the International Military Tribunal. The Nuremberg Charter stipulated prosecution of the following crimes: Crimes Against Peace (planning and making war), War Crimes (responsibility for crimes during war), Crimes Against Humanity (racial persecution), and Conspiracy to Commit other Crimes. 

The tribunal held its opening session in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, and the trials lasted from November 1945 to October 1946. Twenty-two Nazi political and military leaders were indicted, including Hermann Goering, Rudolph Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, and Albert Speer. The tribunal found nineteen individual defendants guilty and sentenced them to punishments that ranged from death by hanging to fifteen years of imprisonment. Three defendants were found that they are not guilty, one committed suicide before the trial, and one did not stand trial due to physical or mental illness.

     Unlike the International Military Tribunal, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was not created by an international agreement, but it nonetheless emerged from international agreements to prosecute Japanese war criminals. By spring 1945, the war in Europe had ended but the war with Japan was continuing at the time the Potsdam Declaration was signed. 

     At the following Moscow Conference, held in December 1945, the US, the UK, and the Soviet Union with affirmation from China agreed to a basic structure to occupy Japan. 

     In January 1946, the US issued a special proclamation to establish the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Similar to the Nuremberg Charter, it outlined the composition, functions, and jurisdiction of the tribunal. The Charter provided for the US to assign judges to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East from the countries that had signed Japan’s instrument of surrender: Australia, Canada, China, France, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, the UK, and the US, as well as British India and the Philippines. 

     From May 1946 to November 1948, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East oversaw the prosecution of twenty-five Japanese political and military leaders. The Emperor of Japan Hirohito and his family were not indicted (he even retained his position on the throne, albeit with diminished status). The International Military Tribunal for the Far East found all defendants guilty and sentenced them to punishments ranging from death to seven years’ imprisonment.

     The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials contributed significantly to the development of international criminal law and served as models for a new series of international criminal tribunals that were established in the 1990s.  The conclusions of the Nuremberg trials also served as models for the Genocide Convention 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and paved the way for the establishment of the International Criminal Court. 

In conclusion, the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials legacy itself is extraordinary, and its importance is hard to overstate. We cannot forget that the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials and, fifty years later, the establishment of the International Criminal Court aimed to safeguard peace in all regions of the world. The achievements of these great trials in elevating justice and law over inhumanity and war give promise for a better tomorrow by paving the way to deal with international crimes. 

About the author: Wedyan AlMadani is a Saudi scholar. She is Jeddah-based Legal Advisor, and specialist in international law and relations.

References

Bard, M. G. (2002). The Nuremberg trials. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.

Brook, T. (2001). The Tokyo Judgment and the Rape of Nanking. The Journal of Asian Studies, 60(3), 673-700. doi:10.2307/2700106

Carnegie Endowment for international peace. (n.d.). The Potsdam declaration: August 2, 1945. New York.

Cho, J. M., Roberts, L. M., & Spang, C. W. (2016). Transnational encounters between Germany and Japan: perceptions of partnership in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Crawford, J. (2012). Brownlies Principles of Public International Law. Oxford University Press.

Janis, M. W., & Noyes, J. E. (2006). Cases and commentary on international law. St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West.

Piccigallo, P. R. (2011). The Japanese on Trial: Allied War Crimes Operations in the East, 1945-1951. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Reydams, L., Wouters, J., & Ryngaert, C. (2012). The Politics of Establishing International Criminal Tribunals. International Prosecutors, 6–80. doi: 

10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199554294.003.0002

Taulbee, J. L. (2018). War Crimes and Trials: A Primary Source Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

United Nations, the Charter of the International Military Tribunal (Nuremberg Charter) retrieved from: https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/documents/atrocity-crimes/Doc.2_Charter%20of%20IMT%201945.pdf

United Nations, International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo Charter) retrieved from: https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/documents/atrocity-crimes/Doc.3_1946%20Tokyo%20Charter.pdf


[1] Reydams, L., Wouters, J., & Ryngaert, C. (2012). The Politics of Establishing International Criminal Tribunals. International Prosecutors, 6–80.

[2] Bard, M. G. (2002). The Nuremberg trials. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.

[3] Piccigallo, P. R. (2011). The Japanese on Trial: Allied War Crimes Operations in the East, 1945-1951. Austin: University of Texas Press.

[4]Carnegie Endowment for international peace. (n.d.). The Potsdam declaration: August 2, 1945. New York.

[5]See as in reference 2. 

[6]See as in reference 1.

[7] Taulbee, J. L. (2018). War Crimes and Trials: A Primary Source Guide. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

[8] United Nations, International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo Charter).

[9] The former Yugoslavia in 1993 and Rwanda in 1994.

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