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Command responsibility at the Sandakan-Ranau war crimes trial

Taucher, Paul (2016) Command responsibility at the Sandakan-Ranau war crimes trial. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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In the Allied trials of suspected Japanese war criminals after the Second World War, the court utilised a number of legal doctrines, derived from both domestic criminal law and international criminal law. The question of how to convict those who had ordered war crimes, or allowed them to happen, without directly taking part in the crimes, was answered by the doctrine of command responsibility. The first command responsibility trial, of General Yamashita Tomoyuki in late 1945, resulted in a precedent that was used to establish the validity of command responsibility charges. The precedent, however, was unclear. Command responsibility could be interpreted as a way of holding a commander responsible for crimes committed by his subordinates, by virtue of his position as commander. Alternatively, it could be interpreted as a way of holding a commander responsible for failing in his duty to stop or punish atrocities. This thesis examines the use of the doctrine of command responsibility at five Australian trials of officers accused of responsibility for the deaths of prisoners of war in the Sandakan-Ranau area in British Borneo. It shows that the court applied both interpretations of command responsibility, exploiting the doctrine as a flexible legal tool. When appropriate, officers were held responsible for failing to discharge their duty; when the court was determined to convict officers with limited connection to a crime, a strict liability was attached to a commander. At other times, where it was evident that an officer himself had directly participated in a crime, command responsibility was not used, as the accused could be convicted by other means.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Wilson, Sandra and Aszkielowicz, D.
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