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Rethinking Justice? Decolonization, Cold War, and Asian War Crimes Trials after 1945

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Organiser: Dr Kerstin von Lingen, JRG “Transcultural Justice”

Venue: Internationales Wissenschaftsforum (IWH)
Hauptsr. 242, 69117 Heidelberg

October 26-29, 2014

The War Crimes Trials which took place in Asia in the aftermath of the Second World War can be understood as sites where new ideologies of international law were constructed in the mid-twentieth century. The crisis faced by old European empires in the aftermath of the Japanese challenge and the rise of anti-colonial movements which erupted across much of the region in the mid-1940s and 1950s provided the political context for these trials. The onset of the Cold War was yet another key factor in shaping power relations and expectations about international justice that affected all the key political actors.
The war crimes trials in Asia were a watershed moment which marked the demise of an old political-legal order (defined by European hegemony) and the advent of a new, anti-imperial one (based on contestations between the American and Soviet blocs and the rise of postcolonial nation-states). The trials themselves served as critically significant sites for producing new visions of legality and political legitimation which would mark this period of transition.
In this conference particular focus lays on the planning of the war crimes trials, their impact on global politics, and on the movements of legal personnel and concepts associated with the trials. Attention is placed on the trials in East, South-East, and South Asia, where the politics of Cold War and decolonization became sharply intertwined, linking local political imperatives of decolonizing societies with the geopolitical considerations of the major global powers. The argument is that diverse and competing Euro-American, Communist, and anti-imperial expectations about law lay at the very centre of the genesis of new ways of thinking about and implementing international justice brought about by the trials. The trials will be investigated in terms of their specific strategic histories as well as their long-term contributions and legacies in generating shifts in notions of international order. The broader objective is thus to place the trials at the centre of histories of decolonization and Cold War, bringing into a common platform discussions on war crimes trials which are often pursued through fragmented area studies approaches, and to investigate the common threads which connect the trials in interrelation with each other and with the broader histories of the threshold times which these trials helped to shape.


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