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Home arrow Law arrow United States law and policy on transitional justice : principles, politics, and pragmatics
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July 1945: Potsdam Declaration

The Allies did not jointly formalize their general policy toward suspected Japanese atrocity perpetrators until WWII was ending. In the section of the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945 (a proclamation signed in the German city of Potsdam by Truman, Churchill, and Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek) that defined the terms of Japan’s surrender and provided for the Allied occupation of Japan, the signatories declared:

Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay . . . . There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest, for we insist that a new order of peace[,] security[,] and justice will be impossible until irresponsible militarism is driven from the world . . . . We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners.30

With this declaration, the Allies publicly made clear that, without negotiation or hesitation, they would seek removal of suspected Japanese war criminals from public office and hold them accountable. The precise form the transitional justice mechanism would take remained undefined, but the Allies continued to rule out inaction and amnesty. John Dower, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of post-WWII Japan, contends that this decision was intentional: The Potsdam Declaration “was highly generalized, and necessarily so, for the victors were still deliberating about how to handle Japanese war crimes right up to the end of the war.”31 The Japanese did not immediately respond to this ultimatum.

 
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