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Associated Project

Legal Flows and Re-colonization: French War Crimes Trials Policy in Saigon (1945-1954) 
Ann-Sophie Schoepfel-Aboukrat (M.A.)

The aim of the PhD is to examine the interactions between war crimes trial policy in Europe and Asia after 1945 in terms of the flows of legal concepts, contextualized within realms of international and colonial politics. “Legal flows” are understood in terms of traveling structures of both legal staff and legal foundations/concepts. The hypothesis of this project is that juridical personnel served as transmitters of legal concepts between Asia and Europe after 1945.
In specific terms, the PhD focuses on the French prosecution of Japanese war criminals in Saigon in the midst of the First Indochina War (1945-1954). At the end of World War II, France was officially among the victorious Allied nations, with a significant political presence in Europe as well as in Asia. However, the situation was quite problematic in Asia: the Japanese had dismantled the French colonial structure after March 9th, 1945, the French population was sidelined, and the power lay with the Indochinese political elite. After the Japanese surrender, the new French government tried to reassert power over Indochina. Prosecuting Japanese war crimes represented a good means to prove that France was a victorious nation and that Japan had lost the war.
The prosecution of Japanese war criminals in Saigon had to cope with the Indochinese struggle for decolonization. Given the political chaos in Indochina, the French war crimes trial policy was based on the same legal and political structures as established in France to prosecute German war criminals. It followed the Allies recommendations on the conduct of the war crimes trials in Asia. Both these aspects were designed to strengthen the prestige of the France in Asia. But this policy proved inappropriate for prosecuting Japanese war criminals in Indochina. France had to adapt it to the circumstances of the First Indochina War. The French war crimes trials policy ultimately functioned through the political logic and ambition of re-colonizing Indochina.
After 1949, France changed its priorities in the prosecution of war crimes. In the context of the Cold War, France was trying to affirm its position in Asia. French diplomats recommended granting clemency to Japanese war criminals as a tool for reconciliation. After 1951, the leniency policy was conducted by the French president in personam. Further, the juridical personnel who had served in Saigon came back to Europe after 1945 with transformed approaches to law, thereby shaping new European conceptions of international criminal law.