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Fellowship Project

An Intellectual History of the Tokyo Trial: Judge Radhabinod Pal and Debates on International Justice
Milinda Banerjee

Milinda Banerjee, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Presidency University, Kolkata, India / Member, JRG “Transcultural Justice”, Cluster of Excellence ‘Asia and Europe’, Heidelberg University, Germany.

While the Tokyo Trial (1946-48) has been extensively studied from perspectives of legal and political-diplomatic history, there remains a significant desideratum in terms of studying the trial from intellectual history angles. The present project has addressed this research gap, giving particular attention to the debates on natural and positive law which were thrown up in the course of the trial. The Indian judge at the trial, Radhabinod Pal, has been used as an anchor to analyse the debates which fragmented the judges and the prosecution team, and furthermore to relate these discourses in a global space to the changing foreign policy contexts of the Allied Powers as well as to the domestic intellectual genealogies of thinking about justice. While the debates in Tokyo have been noticed in earlier scholarly works, there has as yet been no full-length monograph which delves into the plural and multi-sited philosophical-intellectual genealogies of these discussions. Taking a cue from recent interventions on ‘global intellectual history’, the present project offers an intellectual history of some of the concepts of legal philosophy which animated the trial, foregrounding the manner in which diverse concepts of moral justice were deployed by the prosecution and by different judges in the trial to enunciate divergent visions of political order, sovereignty, empire, or anti-colonial insurrection. Using a methodology inspired by ‘transcultural studies’ approaches, the project emphasizes the polyglot construction of languages of international justice in the trial, and studies the multiple Latin, English, French, and Indic vocabularies of legality which were brought into conversation and contestation by the juridical actors. The project has argued that the trial ultimately brought forth new hybrid idioms of justice even as it also destabilized pre-existing legal-political visions of order and sovereignty. It highlights the multiple and conflicting ‘political theologies’ of international justice which were articulated through the juridical space of this trial, and suggests that these contestations continue to bear lessons that may instruct us today.