Forgotten pride Justice Radhabinod Pal -Khadiza Binte Mostafiz
The clocks started ticking from a long time ago, sometimes giving birth to a new story other times unfolding a new mystery. Since the beginning of time there have been magnificent people whose spirits bid goodbye but their deeds still live in the depths of people’s hearts, generations after generations. Get ready with me to travel to the past as I rewind the clock to tell you the story of a great man who is an unforgettable hero to the Japanese people and a forgotten pride of our motherland.
In 1887, a boy named Radhabinod Pal was born, in a small village of Kushtia called Salimpur. Kushtia was then a part of the Bengal presidency of British India. At present, it is one of the famous districts of our country Bangladesh. Since his childhood, Radhabinod Pal was always a meritorious student. He had great interest in acquiring knowledge. His intelligence, hard work and talent amazed his teachers. And before long he started dreaming of becoming a great jurist. With that dream in mind he studied mathematics and constitutional law at Presidency College in Calcutta (present day Kolkata). And after that he got admitted into the Law College of the University of Calcutta. And eventually he completed his student life with success.
In 1922, Radhabinod Pal started serving as a major contributor to the formulation of the British Indian Income Tax Act. Five years after that, in 1927, the British Government of India appointed Pal as a legal advisor. Moreover he also worked as a professor at the Law College of the University of Calcutta from 1923 till 1936. In 1944 Pal’s dream of becoming a great jurist finally came true as he became a judge of the Calcutta High Court as well as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta.
“What an amazing man! ” you must all be thinking. But now let me tell you the main part of the story. It’s about how he became a hero to the Japanese people and an unforgettable part of the world’s history. Radhabinod Pal was a member representing British India as a member of the tribunal of judges officiating at the Tokyo Trials in 1946. It was the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), which was set up by the Allied powers, post World War II, to try Japanese leaders for “war crimes”. There were a total 11 judges. The other 10 judges were from the US, Canada, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, China and the Philippines. Among all the judges of those countries, Pal was the sole dissenting judge who exonerated all the arrested suspects of all charges. In fact Pal was included as a judge after the trial proceedings had started, merely to beef up the Asian presence on the bench. Initially, he was even accommodated at a hotel in Tokyo that was inferior to the one in which the other judges were staying.
However Pal refused to be the token Indian on the bench. He saw things very differently from the other judges. In deliberations with judges from those countries, Pal was highly critical of the prosecution’s use of the legal concept of conspiracy in the context of pre-war decisions by Japanese officials. Conventional war crimes by the Japanese were categorized into classes A, B and C. The class A charge involved crimes against peace (waging aggressive war). Classes B and C charges covered conventional war crimes and crimes against humanity. Twenty-five top leaders were charged with Class A crimes.
Even before the tribunal started everyone knew the results. Because the war was over, the Allies had won, and history would be written by the victors. Among all the judges Pal was the only one who produced a judgment questioning the legitimacy of the tribunal and its rulings. He held the view that the legitimacy of the tribunal was questionable, because the spirit of retribution, and not impartial justice, was the underlying criterion for passing the judgment. He argued that the United States had clearly provoked the war with Japan and expected Japan to act. He also pointed out that there were no such crimes listed under international law when Japan had gone to war, so Japan could hardly have broken any law. By trying the defendants under these charges, the tribunal was going against every accepted legal procedure. He believed that the exclusion of Western colonialism and the use of the atom bomb by the United States from the list of crimes, as well as the exclusion of judges from the vanquished nations on the bench, signified the “failure of the Tribunal to provide anything other than the opportunity for the victors to retaliate.” Judge Pal also described the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States as the worst atrocities of the war, comparable with Nazi crimes. Pal wrote that the Tokyo Trials were an exercise in victor’s justice and that the Allies were equally culpable in acts such as strategic bombings of civilian targets. The very charter (known as the Tokyo Charter) that set up the tribunal, transgressed the fundamental rules of international law, said Pal. He also questioned the very moral right of the Allies to condemn Japanese imperialism when large parts of humanity had been colonies of British and other Western powers for two centuries or more. Japan was a country with no natural resources of its own, he pointed out, and in annexing territories in East Asia and establishing protectorates, was merely following the Western example.
Pal’s logic was simple and irrefutable but sadly no other jurist of the Tokyo Trials held the same belief. The charter was not changed, and the tribunal went about its business exactly as it was expected to. Even so, his reasoning influenced the judges representing the Netherlands and France, and all three of these judges issued dissenting opinions. However, under the rules of the tribunal, all verdicts and sentences were decided by a majority of the presiding judges. The court found all the 25 defendants guilty. Seven were sentenced to death, 16 to life imprisonment, and two were sentenced to 20 years and seven years in prison, respectively. The tribunal was convened on 29 April 1946 and the final sentencing was done between 4-14 December 1948. After a 932-day trial, Australian judge William Webb, head of the trial, read out the verdict .
In 1952, 4 years after the final sentencing of the Tokyo trials, Tokyo signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty and accepted the Tokyo trials’ verdict. And thus ended the American occupation of Japan. The end of the occupation also lifted a ban on the publication of Judge Pal’s 1,235-page dissent. In his 1,235-page dissenting judgement, Pal wrote that the tribunal was a “sham employment of legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge”. He pointed to the “failure of the tribunal to provide anything other than the opportunity for the victors to retaliate”. He concluded: “I would hold that every one of the accused must be found not guilty of every one of the charges in the indictment and should be acquitted on all those charges.” Later on, the Japanese patriots used it as the basis of their argument that the Tokyo trials were biased.
In 1966, Pal visited Japan and said that he had admired Japan from an early age for being the only Asian nation that “stood up against the West”. And in that same year, the Emperor of Japan conferred upon Pal the First Class of the Order of the Sacred Treasure. One year after that, in 10th January 1967, the great judge Radhabinod Pal died. He was 80 years old when his soul bid goodbye to this worldly life. He left behind nine daughters and five sons. After his death, a monument to the judge — erected in 2005 at the Yasukuni Shrine, the memorial to Japan’s war dead and a rallying point for Japanese nationalists. In 2007, on a visit to India, Japanese Prime Minister Shinz? Abe paid tribute to Pal. He then went to Kolkata to meet Pal’s 81 years old son, Prashanta. In 2016, a miniseries of 4 episodes were released and is available on Netflix. The miniseries is named “Tokyo Trials”. In which popular Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan plays Pal.
Radhabinod Pal’s judgement is proof that nothing could sway him from what he believed to be true, right and just. Like everybody else, he concluded that Japan had committed brutal crimes in countries it had occupied, and against prisoners of war. But the thrust of his dissenting order was a blistering criticism of European colonialism and imperialism just a year after his homeland had gained independence from its British overlords. Even though his countrymen would not have been aware of it, in his mind, he would have been carrying the weight of the ideals of an entire nation, liberated from its colonized past and aspiring for a proud future.
Sadly enough to be true, very few of us today remember Radhabinod Pal but the Japanese people never forgot him. Still today he is a hero to the Japanese people. He is remembered by fewer and fewer of his own countrymen 40 years after his death but is still big in Japan. It has been more than 70 years since the Tokyo trial ended. It may be a good time to remember this brave and patriotic man.