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Wednesday, 10 April 1946


Dr EVATT (Barton) (AttorneyGeneral and Minister for External Affairs) . - by leave - With the consent of the House, T incorporate in Hansard a statement on the report by the Australian Board of Inquiry into war crimes committed by the Japanese against Australian personnel, together with a summary of the report :

Following reports of Japanese atrocities in New Guinea and Papua early in 1943, it was decided by this Government, after consultation with the CommanderinChief, Sir Thomas Blarney, to appoint a commission to take evidence and report whether there had been atrocities or breaches ,of the rules of warfare by the Japanese forces in or about New Guinea or Papua. The Chief Justice of Queensland, Sir William Webb, accepted the commission on the 23rd June, 1943, and proceeded to Port Moresby, Milne Bay and other places to take evidence. He examined 471 witnesses at various places in and beyond the mainland of Australia. On the 15th March, 1944, his report was handed to me at Canberra. The principal part of . that report has already been published.

On the 8th June, 1944, I gave to Sir William Webb a further commission to investigate war crimes by enemy armed forces so far as those crimes had not already been reported on. Under this further commission he examined 110 witnesses. Among the matters reported on were the sinking of the hospital ship Centaur, also" the treatment of Australian prisoners of war in Japanese prison camps on the Burma-Thailand railway. It will be recalled that an American submarine destroyed a Japanese convoy in the China Sea in September, 1944. Among those rescued from the sunken Japanese ships were a number of Australian soldiers who had worked on the Burma-Thailand railway.

In October, 1944, before Sir William . Webb had completed the evidence and the report under this second commission, I asked him to visit England to place before the United Nations War Crimes Commission the evidence taken and the findings already made by him. He then made a report on the evidence he had already taken, and on the 6th December, 1944, he left Brisbane by air for London via the United States. Before placing the evidence and findings before the United Nations War Crimes Commission, he was invited by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Simon, to confer with him, the AttorneyGeneral, the J udge Advocate-General and the Legal Adviser to the Foreign Office on important questions which had been raised by Sir William Webb, namely, (1) whether private diaries kept by enemy soldiers disclosing atrocities should be tendered in evidence at war crimes trials; and (2) whether if any enemy unit was shown to have committed an atrocity, all members of the unit should be deemed to be implicated until the contrary was proved. Letters written to me by Sir William Webb from London reveal that he had the advantage of discussing these questions with distinguished lawyers, including judges of the highest courts, and that all had expressed the view that the strict rules of evidence were not applicable, although the leading authority, Winthrop on Military Law and Precedents, second edition, page 842, suggested otherwise.

On the second question, Sir William Webb drew the attention of the conference to section 118 of Holland's Laws of War on Land, which suggested that when an enemy unit disregarded the laws of war all those belonging to it might be treated as implicated. As a result of the conference with the Lord Chancellor and others, the instructions to United Kingdom commanders accompanying' the Royal Warrant to set up military courts to try war criminals included a provision for the admission of any evidence of probative value, and also a provision- that where a unit as a whole systematically disregarded the laws of war the military tribunal should be instructed that it could hold any member guilty unless he proved his innocence.

After the Lord Chancellor's conference, Sir William Webb in January and February, 1945, presented the Australian c<".ses to the United Nations War Crimes

Commission, including the massacres at the Tol and Waitavolo planations in New Britain on the 4th February, 1942, the atrocities against natives and soldiers at Milne Bay in August and September of the same year, the decapitation of Flight Lieutenant Newton, V.C., at Salamaua in March, 1943, the breaches of the rules of warfare by the Japanese in the Owen Stanley and Buna-Sanananda-Gona campaigns, the sinking of the hospital ship Centaur, and the murder and illtreatment of prisoners of war in Malaya, Thailand, and Burma. After the last Australian case had been presented, the then High Commissioner, Mr. S. M. Bruce, cabled to me the highly complimentary references that had been made by the Chairman of the United Nations War Crimes Commission to the method of preparation and presentation of the Australian cases.

On the 3rd September, 1945, following the surrender of Japan and the release of thousands of Australian prisoners of war, I appointed Sir William Webb, Mr. Justice Mansfield, of Queensland, and Judge Kirby, of New South Wales, to bc a board of inquiry to take evidence, and report on war crimes. Sir William Webb was made chairman of the board. As it was clearly desirable to examine the prisoners before their discharge from the Army and in the course of their transportation back to Australia, Judge Kirby proceeded to Singapore and Mr. Justice Mansfield to Manila. Meanwhile, a questionnaire was drawn up which each prisoner of war -was asked to complete. About 12,000 to 14,000 were filled in; but it was, of course, impossible to examine 14,000 witnesses. Consequently a selection was made by the judges and eventually 248 witnesses were examined for the purposes of the case against the Japanese war criminals.

In Melbourne, Sir William Webb conferred with the Army authorities on the. machinery for the trial of the minor Japanese offenders under the War Crimes Act. This machinery has been in operation for some months by the Army Legal Corps, and many war criminals have been tried, convicted and sentenced.

The evidence was not concluded when I asked Mr. Justice Mansfield to proceed to London to assist Lord "Wright with the preparation of the cases against the major Japanese war criminals. Lord Wright, as is well known, is the Chairman of the United Nations War Crimes Commission, and our represenative on that commission. Mr. Justice Mansfield flew to London in December, 1945, and was appointed an additional member of the United Nations War Crimes Commission and Deputy Chairman of its Pacts and Evidence Committee.

In the meantime, Judge Kirby also ceased to take evidence in order to become a Royal Commissioner in Tasmania. I then appointed Mr. Justice Philp, of Queensland, a War Crimes Commissioner to take the evidence while Sir William Webb was proceeding to draft the report. This draft report, after perusal by Mr. Justice Mansfield was signed by Sir William Webb and Mr. Justice Mansfield on. the 31st January, 1946.

In the meantime, Sir William Webb had been nominated as the Australian representative -on the International Military Tribunal for the Ear East, and Mr. Justice Mansfield had been appointed Australian Prosecutor before that tribunal. On the 3rd February, 1946, they flew to Tokyo. Later, Sir William Webb was appointed by General MacArthur to be the President of the International Military Tribunal which comprises a judge from each of nine nations, namely, Australia, Canada, China, France, Holland, New Zealand, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, United Kingdom and the United States of America. Under the charter for the trial of the major Japanese war criminals, the appointment of the President rests with the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.

I do not intend to read any extracts from the report which I now lay on the table of the House; in an appendix to this statement I have made .selections from the report which amply reveal the i I. ,C king misconduct on the part of the Japanese troops in battle and out of it, and the callous disregard by the Japanese prison authorities of the Geneva Convention which was designed to protect prisoners of war.







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