Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Uncovering post-WWII accountability, in Hong Kong

(Thank you to IntLawGrrls for the opportunity to contribute this introductory post, Part 1 of a 2-part series; Part 2 is here)

It was a real surprise for me to find, shortly after taking up an academic posting at the University of Hong Kong in 2005, that Britain’s one-time Pearl of the Orient had been the site of war crimes trials in the aftermath of World War II.
Very early on, I was delighted to supervise a dissertation about one of the trials by a then-student, Paul Harris, a Hong Kong Senior Counsel. I developed a fascination for the topic.
My own research has uncovered 3 different types of prosecutions:
► Treason trials, in the domestic Hong Kong courts, of persons accused of collaborating with the Japanese regime of occupation;
► War crimes trials, held by Australia with the consent of the British colonial administration, of crimes of particular interest to Australia (for example, concerning the prisoner of war camps in the Dutch East Indies); and, finally,
► Military proceedings brought by the United Kingdom under its Royal Warrant of 1946.
The atrocities committed in Hong Kong during the war were also tried by Chinese military tribunals, and formed part of the dossier of evidence heard in Tokyo by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.
My work has focused on the third type of proceedings, to which I refer as the Hong Kong trials. In my article ‘Rediscovering the war crimes trials in Hong Kong, 1946-1948’, recently published in the Melbourne Journal of International Law, I introduce the product of several years of research into the topic.
This project began with a research grant that I won from the Hong Kong government in 2008, to: gather together the case files that were kept at the National Archives in Kew, about 10 miles west of central London; create a database to make the files available to the public; and analyse the materials. I launched the Hong Kong’s War Crimes Trials Collection website and database (above) in 2010, and have been continuing to conduct research in the area ever since.
As detailed in data available at the website, the accused in the Hong Kong trials were primarily members of the Imperial Japanese Army, including the Kempeitai, although several civilians and Navy officers were tried as well. In total, 46 judgements were issued. Of these, 44 were confirmed by the Reviewing Officer (Commander of Land Forces, Hong Kong), against 108 individuals. There were 14 acquittals. 2 judgements were not confirmed. There was one retrial following non-confirmation of the judgement, and one judgement was transferred to the Supreme Court, to be heard as the crime of treason instead of war crimes.
I am now completing the editing of Hong Kong’s War Crimes Trials, a book that has been commissioned by Oxford University Press. Contributors include experts such as Professor Robert Cryer of Birmingham University in England, Dr. Yuma Totani (right) of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Professor Bing Bing Jia of Tsinghua University in Beijing, Dr. Nina Jørgensen (left) of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Dr. Alexander Zahar of Macquarie University in Sydney, and Professor Roger S. Clark of Rutgers-Camden. Their essays will address, in far greater detail than my article, specific topics emerging from the Hong Kong trials, such as command responsibility, superior orders, and war crimes.
The precursor to that book is my just-published Melbourne Journal article, the contents of which I will discuss in my post tomorrow.

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