Current Institutional Affiliation
Professor, History, University of Hawaii / Manoa

Yuma Totani is a historian of modern Japan with the area of specialization in the studies of post-WWII Allied war crimes trials in the Asia-Pacific region (1945-1952). She has authored The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The Pursuit of Justice in the Wake of World War II_(Harvard University Asia Center, 2008), and Justice in Asia and the Pacific Region, 1945-1952: Allied War Crimes Prosecutions (Cambridge University Press, 2015), as well as producing their Japanese-language translations, titled, _Tōkyō saiban: dai-niji taisen go no hō to seigi no tsuikyū (Misuzu shobō, 2008), and Futashikana seigi: BC-kyū senpan saiban no kiseki (Iwanami shoten, 2015). She presently teaches at the University of Hawaii.

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2009
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Assistant Professor, History, University of Hawaii
Justice in the Balance: Lessons from the Allied War Crimes Trials in the Asia-Pacific Region

This project explores the Allied war crimes program in the Asia-Pacific region (1945-51) in order to assess its policy relevance to Asian regional security and international justice today. In the wake of World War II, eleven countries that had been at war with Japan—Australia, Britain, Canada, France, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Republic of China, the Philippines, the Soviet Union, and the United States—established in Tokyo the eastern counterpart of the Nuremberg Tribunal in order to prosecute wartime leaders of Japan for various international offenses. In addition, eight of the eleven countries set up special war crimes courts at 51 separate locations, where they held more than 2,240 trials against some 5,700 war crimes suspects. Comparative and transnational in its conception, this project does not only address historical questions concerning war memory and responsibility but also the trials' implications to Japan’s present-day diplomacy and regional security. Moreover, it examines the relevance of Allied war crimes trials to deepen our understanding of the ability of contemporary international criminal tribunals to further the cause of justice, accountability, reconciliation, and the rule of law. The present-day policy relevance of this project cannot be overemphasized. The WWII Allied war crimes program is one of the few historical examples that allow a rare insight into both the short- and long-term effectiveness of international prosecution in facilitating transitional justice. While international prosecution of the similar scale is being pursued at The Hague and elsewhere today, none of them is yet to attain the historical vantage point necessary for determining the trials’ long-term impact on peoples, communities, and regions concerned. By contrast, more than a half-century has passed since the end of the Allied war crimes program, making it possible for researchers to attempt its comprehensive assessment. For example, how did the Allied trials contribute to “capacity building,” or judicial reform and the strengthening of the rule of law in post-conflict societies? Did the trials play any substantive role in the area of “restorative justice,” or healing and reconciliation processes? How did the experience of the trials nurture grass-roots initiatives in the fact-finding mission, and by extension, help rebuild civil society? What influence did the trials have on postwar diplomacy and security in the Asia-Pacific region? As the ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda approach their final days, and as a new trial has begun at Phnom Penh, this project can provide a timely, much-needed empirical study that sheds light on the complex relationship between the working of the international-law regime, the pursuit of retribution and reconciliation, the spread of the rule of law, and the attainment of international peace and security.