In August 1945, representatives of the British, French, U.S., and Soviet governments, meeting in London, signed an agreement that created the International Military Tribunal and set ground rules for the trial. To avoid using words such as law or code, the document was named The London Charter of the International Military Tribunal. It combined elements of Anglo-American and continental European law. Defendants' rights and the rules of evidence differed in several ways from those in American courtrooms.
The four nations issued indictments against 24 persons and 6 organizations in October 1945. The counts of the charges were as follows: (1) conspiracy to wage aggressive war; (2) waging aggressive war, or crimes against peace; (3) war crimes; and (4) crimes against humanity. Of 22 defendants, 3 were acquitted, 12 were sentenced to death, and the remainder received prison terms. At the conclusion of this trial, 6 Nazi organizations were charged: the Sturmabteilungen (SA), the Reichsregierung (cabinet of the Reich), the General Staff and High Command of the German armed forces, the Schutzstaffel (SS, bodyguard units), the Gestapo, and the Corps of the Political Leaders of the Nazi Party. The first organization was not convicted, and the next two had so few members that the Allies decided simply to deal with the individuals who had belonged to these organizations. The last three organizations were found guilty, making it possible later to convict individuals on the basis of them having belonged to these organizations.
On 9 December 1946, the so-called Doctors« Trial opened, conducted by the Allies. It dealt with individuals associated with the Nazi euthanasia program. A total of 23 individuals were indicted for their involvement. On 20 August 1947, the court proclaimed 16 of them guilty; 7 were sentenced to death and executed on 2 June 1948. In secondary trials before that, 22 of 31 doctors charged were found guilty and sentenced to death at Buchenwald, the concentration camp where many of their crimes were committed.
The Allied occupying powers also conducted individual war crimes trials in their zones of occupation. The Americans were by far the most fervent in their pursuit of justice, scheduling more than 169,000 trials. Although fewer were actually held, the Americans did sentence 9,000 Germans to prison terms, and others were fined. The British and French were not greatly interested in prosecuting war criminals; the British held 2,296 trials in their zone. The Soviets Union was perhaps the least interested in such legal proceedings.
Trials continued under the Federal Republic of Germany but with little punishment for the guilty. Alfred Krupp served only three years in prison for conscripting slave labor in his industrial enterprises, and on his release his empire was restored to him. The chemical firm of I. G. Farben was not broken up. From 1975 to 1981 the government prosecuted 15 individuals associated with the Majdanek concentration camp. Only 1 person was found guilty of murder, and 5 were acquitted.
In January 1946, General Douglas MacArthur approved a charter to inaugurate the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), which was dominated by the United States. On 3 May 1946, the IMTFE opened with the trial of 28 of 80 Class A Japanese war criminals at Tokyo. The hearings covered crimes that occurred between 1928 and the Japanese surrender in August 1945. The indictments were based on the concept of war crimes that had been stipulated at Nuremberg—that is, crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggressive war. However, in the Tokyo proceedings, there was no assumption of collective guilt as in the case of Germany, and thus no organizations were charged. Of the 28 defendants, 19 were professional military men and 9 were civilians. The prosecution team was made up of justices from 11 Allied nations: Australia, Canada, China, France, Great Britain, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Indictments accused the defendants of promoting a plan of conquest and the commission of both war crimes and crimes against humanity.
On 4 November 1948, the sentences were meted out: 2 defendants had died; 1 was considered insane; 7 were sentenced to death; 16 were sentenced to life imprisonment; and the rest were given jail terms. Japanese Emperor Hirohito, in whose name so many war crimes had been committed, was not charged. A second group of 23 men and a third group of 19 men were never brought to trial, and the men were released in 1947 and 1948, respectively. All those sentenced to prison were released over the next several years. No trials of the infamous Japanese Unit 731, which would have been akin to the Doctors' Trial in Germany, were conducted. Prosecution was not pursued because of a bargain struck by the U.S. government to drop prosecution in return for all information on experiments in germ and biological warfare on human guinea pigs, including U.S. prisoners of war.
The British carried out minor war crimes trials of Japanese nationals in Southeast Asia, and other countries also held war crimes trials for individuals guilty of these offenses in their national territories. In China, there were trials in 10 locations.
Thomas J. Weiler
Maga, Timothy. Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.; Marrus, Michael R. The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial 1945–46: A Documentary History. The Bedford Series in History and Culture. Bedford, UK: St. Martin's Press, 1997.; Martin, Roy A. Inside Nürnberg: Military Justice for Nazi War Criminals. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Books, 2000.