Introduction to War Crimes Trials Documentation
WCDI’s principal sources are the records of more than 2,240 war crimes trials that the Allied Powers carried out against the Japanese between 1945 and 1952, at 51 separate locations in the former theaters of war in Asia and the Pacific.
By “trial records,” we mean at the first instance the official records of court proceedings such as the charge sheet, the bill of particulars, transcripts of court proceedings, court exhibits, and the court’s decision. But the term “trial records” may be used in a broader sense, too, to include the internal records of the core trial participants – such as the accused, the prosecution, the defense, the judges, reviewing and confirming authorities of the trials, and the secretariat of war crimes courts – which may not have been part of the public records but which inform us of the mechanics of war crimes trials, prosecutorial strategies, prosecutorial priorities, defense arguments, and judges’ decisions. The trial records in the former sense may contain as many as one million pages, while internal records of trial participants would likely amount to millions of pages.
Eleven nations that had been at war with Japan participated in the Allied war crimes program in the Asia-Pacific region, and they took custody of the records of those trials that came within their respective national jurisdictions. Most if not all of the eleven nations also took back to their home countries duplicates of the record of a single joint trial of 28 major Japanese war criminals at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo (IMTFE, 1946-1948; also known as the Tokyo Trial [Tōkyō saiban]), of which they were participants. The IMTFE records that they took back home may include internal records of the judges and prosecutors, such as correspondence, reports on the evaluation of evidentiary materials, and drafts of the judgment.
The eleven participating nations are as follows: Australia, Canada, France, Great Britain, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Duplicates of certain parts of the IMTFE and Allied national war crimes trial records are preserved at the archives of other non-participating countries as well, such as the People’s Republic of China and Singapore. The National Archives of Japan, the National Diet Library in Tokyo, and a small number of Japanese research institutions also have duplicates of the official records of the IMTFE proceedings, records of national-level Allied war crimes trials, and internal documents of Japanese accused and defense teams.
WCDI has yet to establish conclusively the total trial statistics, since there exist discrepancies with data among Japanese and Allied sources. The task of verifying the data is complicated given that not all trial records are readily accessible at the archives of former Allied countries. There is also a question of how to count those defendants who were prosecuted on multiple occasions with separate charges, and those who were retried. The number of trials and accused persons that the WCDI site offers is based on the data compiled by the Japanese Ministry of Legal Affairs between the 1950s and early 1970s, and should be understood as approximate figures.1
Preservation conditions of trial records vary depending on where they are archived. Indicated below is a summary of what is already known to us concerning the size of the records, their accessibility, languages used, physical conditions of archived records, the availability of digitized or microfilmed versions, and types of digital technologies, if used, in the record preservation. The information below is updated as we continue to explore archival sites and track down various digitization initiatives across the globe.
Records of the trial of major Japanese war criminals at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo, 1946-1948). A single joint trial of 28 major Japanese war criminals was carried out bilingually in English and Japanese, and the official record of the trial was created in the two languages. Duplicates of the English-language record of the IMTFE court proceedings are preserved at a number of archival sites and libraries across the globe and are open to the public. There are also print editions of the transcripts of court proceedings and the judgment, in both English and Japanese.
In the past two decades, several resource centers across the globe have undertaken the digitization of the IMTFE record separately and concurrently, as a result of which there are several online portals that make the IMTFE trial record available in different digital format and scope. For instance, the ICC Legal Tools Database hosts a scanned version of the entirety of the English-language transcripts of court proceedings and a near complete set of English-language court exhibits. The Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (JACAR) of the National Archives of Japan similarly hosts at its website a complete set of the scanned transcripts of court proceedings and court exhibits, in both English and Japanese. Neither of the digital records at the ICC Legal Tools Database and JACAR are text-searchable. The Database of the Tokyo Trials Literature at Shanghai Jiao Tong University Press, meanwhile, carries text-searchable English-language transcripts of court proceedings but subscription is required to access this database. These archives and centers are by no means the only ones that have digitized the IMTFE record. However, a comprehensive text-searchable database that encompasses the trial transcripts, court exhibits, and judgments is yet to come into existence.
As for the internal records of IMTFE participants, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at College Park, Maryland, are home to voluminous investigative records of the IMTFE prosecuting agency as well as administrative documents of the IMTFE secretariat. A significant portion of the prosecution’s internal records have been microfilmed and are available as microfilm publications (774 reels). Furthermore, various internal documents that were generated by the prosecuting agency, the defense, and the judges at the IMTFE are deposited at multiple archival sites and research institutions across the globe, which include but are not limited to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the National Archives of Australia, the Library and Archives Canada, the National Archives at Key, Surrey (UK), the National Archives of Japan, the National Archives of the Netherlands, and the Archives New Zealand. These records are open to the public but, with some exceptions, not yet available in digital format.
Records of two additional trials against major Japanese war criminals (Tokyo, 1948-1949). Two additional trials of major Japanese war criminals were held at Tokyo immediately after the conclusion of the IMTFE proceedings. The two are known as the Tamura and Toyoda Trials. These trials were carried out in English, and the trial records were kept in English only. NARA’s microfilm publications include the records of the Tamura and Toyoda Trials (14 reels). The microfilm version of each case contains the entirety of the transcripts of court proceedings, a full set of court exhibits, and the decision of the court. Utah State University’s Digital History Collection hosts a digitized version of the full transcripts of the Toyoda Trial.
Records of Australian war crimes trials (294 trials against a total of 949 war crimes suspects, held at eight separate locations in the South Pacific and northern Australia as well as in Hong Kong and Singapore in 1945-1951). The Australian war crimes courts used English as the court language and maintained the records of court proceedings in English. That said, a fair number of Japanese-language evidentiary materials are included in the exhibits because the Australian courts allowed the introduction of Japanese-language evidentiary materials insofar as they came with English translation. The official records of Australian war crimes trials are, therefore, a mix of English- and Japanese-language sources. The Japanese-language materials are commonly hand-written, and there are occasionally hand-written insertions and corrections in the margins of English-language transcripts as well. (The same practice can be found in the records of IMTFE and other Allied war crimes trials.)
The National Archives of Australia digitized the entirety of the official records of Australian war crimes trials in the early 2000s, which greatly facilitated research of Australian war crimes trials. However, the scanning technology at the time was that of image-scanning, making the digital trial records difficult to use for further data processing. A guide to the records related to Japanese war criminals in the hands of the Australian authorities, “Japanese War Crimes in the Pacific: Australia’s Investigations and Prosecutions,” is available at the National Archives of Australia. The guide provides the most authoritative and comprehensive data of Australian war crimes trials, including the exact number of trials and accused persons.
Records of British war crimes trials (330 trials against a total of 978 Japanese war crimes suspects, held at ten separate locations in British Southeast Asian colonies, including Hong Kong and Singapore in 1946-1948). The British war crimes courts used English as the court language and maintained the records of court proceedings in English. The trials records are open to the public although there appears to be a fair number of aging documents that need to be treated for restoration. A portion of the British war crimes trials has been digitized and accessible online, such as “Hong Kong’s War Crimes Trials Collection” on the Hong Kong University Library Digital Initiatives website.
Records of Philippine war crimes trials (72 trials against a total of 169 war crimes suspects, held at Manila in 1947-1949). The Philippine war crimes trials adopted English as the court language and maintained the records of court proceedings in English. The entirety of the official records of Philippine war crimes trials is deposited at NARA and open to the public. A systematic effort to microfilm or digitize the Philippine trial records is yet to be made.
Records of U.S. war crimes trials (456 trials against a total of 1,453 Japanese war crimes suspects, held at Guam, Kwajalein, Manila, Shanghai, and Yokohama in 1945-1949). The U.S. war crimes trials adopted English as the court language and maintained the records of court proceedings in English. NARA takes custody of the entirety of the official records of U.S. war crimes trials as well as records of war crimes investigation and various administrative documents of the trials. The records are open to the public, and a small selection of the trial records are available as microfilm publications.
Some parts of the record have been digitized and accessible at various research centers, such as the reviews of the Yokohama Trials at the website of the International Research and Documentation Centre for War Crimes Trials at Philipps University Marburg in Germany, and the official record of the Yamashita Trial (held at the U.S. military commission at Manila, 1945) at the website of the Library of Congress.
A guide to the records related to Japanese war criminals in the hands of the American authorities, “Researching Japanese War Crimes,” is available at NARA.
- Records of Chinese, Dutch, and French war crimes trials (605 trials against a total of 883 war crimes suspects, held at ten separate locations in China, including Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, and Taipei in 1946-1949; 448 trials against a total of 1,038 war crimes suspects, held at 12 separate locations in the Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia in 1946-1949; and 39 trials by the French authorities against a total of 230 war crimes suspects, held at Saigon in 1946-1950). The Chinese, French, and Dutch war crimes courts adopted the respective national languages as the court language, and maintained the records of court proceedings in those languages. Access to these records remains restricted at the archives of the host countries. However, duplicates of some parts of trial records are deposited at archival sites such as NARA and the National Archives of Japan.
- The difficulty of determining the trial statistics is discussed in Philip R. Piccigallo, The Japanese on Trial: Allied War Crimes Operations in the East, 1945-1951 (1979), pp. 263-5.↩