An Overview of the Singapore War Crimes Trials (1946-1948): Prosecuting Lower-Level Accused

Forthcoming, Singapore Law Review, Volume 34

51 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2016

See all articles by W.L. Cheah

W.L. Cheah

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Faculty of Law

Date Written: October 31, 2016


Apart from the more well-known Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials, hundreds of other war crimes trials were organised by individual Allied Powers after the war. From 1946 to 1948, the British tried over 400 accused linked to the Japanese military in Singapore for war crimes committed not only in Singapore but throughout Asia. This article has two broad objectives. First, it aims to reconstruct and describe the Singapore Trials in a context-sensitive manner. It underscores the wide-ranging prosecutions and the informal approach of these trials, and focuses particularly on trials of infamous war crimes in Singapore. Second, this article examines trial discussions about the individual accountability of low to mid-level accused. These discussions will be of increasing interest as accountability for war crimes and core international crimes becomes more common in the future, resulting in less exceptional trials or justice processes that go beyond targeting leaders and main perpetrators.

In undertaking these two objectives, this article proceeds as follows. Part 1 positions the Singapore Trials against other war crimes trials implemented in the aftermath of the Second World War. Part 2 brings us to post-war Singapore and examines the socio-political and legal context of the Singapore Trials. Part 3 then studies trials of infamous Singapore atrocities. It explores trial discussions about culpability for omissions, the relevance of organisational membership, and the impact of superior orders. The article concludes by discussing the historical and legal insights that may be gleaned from the Singapore Trials.

Keywords: international criminal law, war crimes trials, international humanitarian law

Suggested Citation

Cheah, W.L., An Overview of the Singapore War Crimes Trials (1946-1948): Prosecuting Lower-Level Accused (October 31, 2016). Forthcoming, Singapore Law Review, Volume 34, Available at SSRN:

W.L. Cheah (Contact Author)

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Faculty of Law ( email )

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Eu Tong Sen Building
Singapore, 259776

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