Australia's prosecution of Japanese war criminals: stimuli and constraints
AffiliationFaculty of Law
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsCarrel, M. (2005). Australia's prosecution of Japanese war criminals: stimuli constraints. PhD thesis, Faculty of Law, The University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2005 Dr. Michael Carrel
This thesis examines the Australian war crimes trials programme that took place between 1945 and 1951. It is structured in two parts: Part 1 considers the 'stimuli' that first impelled Australia to commence a war crimes trials programme and Part 2 considers the various 'constraints' that limited the effectiveness of the programme and eventually brought it to its end. There were three powerful stimuli that brought about Australia's war crimes trials programme. The first of those was the widespread feeling of fear and antipathy towards the Japanese that permeated Australia during much of the first half of the 20th Century. The second was anger at the extent of war crimes and atrocities committed by Japan during World War II, particularly against Australian prisoners of war. The third was a desire for justice and the need to hold Japan to account for its crimes. These stimuli succeeded in generating Australia's trials programme, which was given its legal underpinning by the Australian War Crimes Act 1945. That legislation was well supported in international law, which by 1945 held that a belligerent had a right to prosecute for war crimes those members of the armed forces of the opponent who fell into his hands. The War Crimes Act 1945, based on similar British legislation, specified that trials should be conducted by military courts. Between November 1945 and April 1951, Australia conducted 300 trials in nine different locations (Morotai, Wewak, Labuan, Ambon, Rabaul, Darwin, Singapore, Hong Kong and Manus Island) against 807 individual defendants. Of that number, 579 were convicted of one or more charges and 137 of these were sentenced to death and executed. Although there were certain constraints related to problems of evidence and misinformation, the major constraint faced by the Australian war crimes trials programme was that it was never adequately resourced. After World War II, as the Army downsized to a peacetime all volunteer force with a limited manpower ceiling, there were continuing difficulties in providing sufficient personnel with the right skills to properly maintain the programme. This was particularly evident with investigation officers. The trials programme was brought to its eventual end by the deepening Cold War between the Soviet sphere and the West, which required that Japan be brought into the Western fold as a counter to the extension of Soviet influence in the Asia-Pacific region. The Chifley Government was slow to respond to the changing dynamics and procrastinated throughout 1949 (during which time no Australian trials took place) on whether or not it should end the Australian trials programme. With a change of Commonwealth Government in Australia at the end of that year, that decision was soon made. The new Menzies government announced a final series of trials to be held on remote Manus Island off Papua New Guinea. Those trials commenced in June 1950 and concluded in April 1951. Two months later, in June 1951, all five prisoners who had received death sentences during those trials were executed—thus bringing to its final close Australia's war crimes trials programme.
KeywordsWar Crimes Act 1945 (Australia); Japanese war criminals; World War II (1939-1945); war crime trials; Manus Province; Papua New Guinea
- Click on "Export Reference in RIS Format" and choose "open with... Endnote".
- Click on "Export Reference in RIS Format". Login to Refworks, go to References => Import References