Judge Pal: A Japanese Hero

“….if not for anything else, we shall forever remain grateful to the country of Justice Pal” – concluded one senior Japanese journalists, after a long analysis of India-Japan-china strategic relations. A group of senior Indian journalists looked baffled. Hardly 50 years after his death, Justice Radha Binod Pal is a forgotten hero in his homeland, even though he continues to be a deeply venerated figure in Japan. Justice Pal –like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose – provides an important emotional link in an otherwise fast growing strategic and economic relations between two prominent Asian powers.

Justice Radha Binod Pal is a forgotten hero in his homeland, even though he continues to be a deeply venerated figure in Japan. Justice Pal –like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose – provides an important emotional link in an otherwise fast growing strategic and economic relations between two prominent Asian powers.

Born in Kustia( now in Bangladesh) in 1886, Radha Binod Pal studied mathematics at Presidency College and then Law at Law College of Calcutta University. He also taught at Law College from 1923 to 1936. In 1941, he was made a Judge of Calcutta High Court. From 1944 to 1946 he was also the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University. But his moment of glory came in 1946, when he was sent by the Government of India as one of the Judges for Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. Why he was chosen it is difficult to say – for Justice Pal had clear sympathy for the nationalists, including Subhas Bose’s INA. But apparently he was chosen by his chief Justice, an Englishman.

One among the 11 international jurists, he delivered the lone dissenting judgment at the trial. He believed that the Tribunal itself was a farce and nothing more than victors’ justice imposed on vanquished Japanese. He refused to accept that only Japan provoked the war. He, in fact concluded that USA had provoked Japan into war. He found defendants not guilty of Class A war crimes and refused to apply (newly coined) charges like crime against Humanity. He said exclusion of Western Colonialism and use of Atom Bomb from the list of charges is unacceptable. However it would be wrong to assume that Justice Pal was unduly favouring the Japanese. He found Japanese wartime conduct as ‘devilish and fiendish’; he also found overwhelming evidence of atrocities committed by the Japanese Army during the war. Yet, he believed strongly that the Tribunal itself was an act of retribution and as such incapable of producing any balanced verdict or contributing to any lasting peace. His judgment since then has been a landmark in international law for its reasoning.

Justice Pal’s 1200-odd page judgment was banned by the Allies. In 1952, Japan was forced to sign San Francisco Treaty and accept the verdict of Tokyo Trial. As the American occupation of Japan ended Justice Pal’s dissenting judgment came out as a book. And it provided the basis for neo-nationalist movement in Japan that Tokyo trial was a sham and Japan was not guilty of war crimes. In subsequent Japanese political and popular discourse, his criticism of Japan was forgotten and only the positive part was highlighted.

After the Tokyo trials, Justice Pal was elected to the United Nations’ International Law Commission, where he served from 1952 to 1966. He passed away in 1967. One of his sons, Satyabrata Pal was India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan. Another son Pranab Kumar Pal was also a famous lawyer. Noted lawyer and India’s former Junior Finance Minister Debi Prasad Pal was his son-in-law.

After 1952, Justice Pal visited Japan a number of times and was always showered with great degree of affection – both by the Japanese government and ordinary people. In 1966, Japanese Emperor conferred him the First Class of the Order of the Sacred Treasure. Even in recent years scholarly works have been written on him in Japan and Japanese National broadcaster NHK has made a number of documentaries on Justice Pal. In 2007, the then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to Calcutta and met Justice Pal’s son Prasanta. Abe’s grandfather Nobusuke Kishi was one of the prominent Japanese leaders, famously pronounced “not guilty” by Justice Pal at the Tokyo Trial.

Leaders and top diplomats from both countries routinely mention Justice Radha Binod Pal’s contribution in building Indo-Japan relationship but not only in his country, even in his home city, Justice Pal is a forgotten figure. There is not a single road or park named after him or any other mention of this great man anywhere in public life in Calcutta. In Japan, he is venerated by nationalists even today and a monument dedicated to Justice Pal stands on the sacred grounds of Yasukuni shrine (picture) in Tokyo.

Anindya Sengupta
Anindya Sengupta
Anindya Sengupta is a student of history and co-author of Laxminama: Monks, Merchants, Money and Mantra. He blogs at https://thetimeriver.blogspot.com/

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