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Research Project

Transcultural Legal Debates in the Wake of Decolonization and Cold War: The impact of the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC) on War Crimes Trials Policy in the Second World War
Dr. Kerstin von Lingen

Central Research focus of this project is the interaction of concepts of legality and justice between Asia and Europe during the War Crimes Trials in East Asia between 1945 and 1954, by focusing on the work of the United Nations War Crimes Commission. The UN commission provided the framework for very active transcultural legal debates with its two branches at London and at Chongking and reflects the continuous tension between the ideas of justice and practical political considerations in the wake of Cold War and Decolonization struggles in East Asia. This project analyzes the United Nations War Crimes Commissions Policy as established by its Legal Committee and its impact on the notion of justice in East Asia, by focusing on the commission and actors of this “legal flow” of staff from (often) European lawyers as members to the Far Eastern and Pacific Sub-Commission. Special emphasis will be laid on the interactions, debates and concepts discussed behind the scenes of the Tokyo trial, between the UN commissions at London and Chungking on the framing of International Criminal Law. Also competing notions of justice, as established by Soviet law scholars, are taken into account. It was at Chongking and within the UN Legal Committee at London, where concepts of transcultural justice and the idea of human rights were discussed, and the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court first advocated. Later, many of the scholars and lawyers involved formulated sections of the UN charters; others were even involved directly in the UN’s later Commissions at New York (e.g. the UN Committees on International Law). By focusing on the assignments of staff and judges first in Court and secondly after the War Crimes Trials in various UN commissions and at academic positions at European universities, this projects argues that Western debates on the rule of law cannot be seen in geographic isolation, but emerged within a broader transcultural space of discourse and related movement of people and ideas between Asia and Europe.