70 Years Later: The International Military Tribunal for the Far East


From 4th to 12th November, 1948, the findings and final verdict against 28 former Japanese military and political officials were given in the trial of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the judgment of the IMTFE, the International Nuremberg Principles Academy (Nuremberg Academy) convened an international conference titled “70 Years Later: The International Military Tribunal for the Far East”, in Nuremberg from 17 to 19 May 2018. This unique event brought together more than 30 experts from diverse fields, such as law, history and the social sciences, making it the biggest conference in Europe on the subject matter in 2018. More recently in November, the Nuremberg Academy participated in two anniversary events on the IMTFE in Asia: an international symposium in Shanghai on the Tokyo trial; and an event in Tokyo on the present day significance of Nuremberg and Tokyo. In light of the 70th anniversary of this historic judgment, it is an opportune moment to recall some key points from the conference held in Nuremberg and reflect further on the IMTFE.

The relative dearth of interdisciplinary scholarship on the IMTFE

Since the delivery of the IMTFE’s judgment, a number of studies have made significant contributions to disseminating knowledge about the trial. Yet, a common issue which continually surfaced in all presentations at the conference related to the relative dearth of interdisciplinary scholarship on the IMTFE. Indeed, not many studies have been conducted on key aspects of the trial, such as: the majority judgment, the modes of liability that were utilized in arriving at the verdicts, the persona of the judges of the tribunal as well as the perceptions of the Japanese people about the trial. One of the explanations for this is that it took about three decades after the Tokyo Trial for the judgment and related transcripts to be published and therefore become easily accessible. This undoubtedly affected the level of potential research and analysis on the subject. Another plausible explanation expressed during the conference was that perspectives about the trial have, in the past, largely been dominated by western-centric studies on the trial of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. This has minimized knowledge of Asian perspectives on the IMTFE, especially of the Japanese scholarship that exists on the trial. Besides, the era of the Cold War brought discussions about the trial to a standstill, and thus contributed to the reduced amount of research about the IMTFE. There is therefore the need for a revival of scholarly exchange and critical study of the IMTFE in light of the developments that have been witnessed on the international landscape in the last 70 years. Continue reading