Cheah W.L., “Culture and International Criminal Law”, forthcoming in Oxford Handbook of International Criminal Law.
This chapter explores international criminal law (ICL)’s encounter of cultural difference. ICL claims to apply universally applicable laws and champion universal interests. These universality claims come under challenge when ICL is implemented in varied contexts. While broad agreement exists over the general type of atrocities condemned by ICL, there continues to be disagreement or unfamiliarity about ICL’s conceptions of justice, its normative standards, as well as its underlying assumptions about human agency and responsibility. While ground-breaking research on ICL and culture has been published in recent years, there needs to be more research in this area. The overlooking or dismissal of cultural challenges undermines ICL’s operations, such as the trial’s fact-finding capabilities, and, more importantly, its legitimacy.
Cheah W.L. (with Moritz Vormbaum), “British War Crimes Trials in Europe and Asia (1945-1949) – A Comparative Study”, published in Leiden Journal of International Law, Volume 31, Issue 3, 2018, 23 pages.
Between 1945 and 1949, the British military conducted a large number of war crimes trials in Europe and Asia. Based on historical archival records, among other sources, this article evaluates and compares the British authorities’ implementation of the 1945 Royal Warrant and war crimes trials in Europe and Asia, with a specific focus on trials organized in Germany and Singapore. By examining the British war crimes trial experience in those two jurisdictions, the article analyses factors shaping the evolution of the Royal Warrant’s legal framework and trial model in different contexts. It therefore contributes to the growing historical work on post-Second World War trials and current debates among scholars of transitional justice and international criminal law on the contextual factors that impact on war crimes trials.
Cheah W.L., “The Curious Case of Singapore’s BIA Desertion Trials: War Crimes, Projects of Empire, and the Rule of law”, published in European Journal of International Law .
This article critically analyses a set of war crimes trials that dealt, among others, with the contentious issue of deserting British Indian Army soldiers and were conducted by the British colonial authorities in post-Second World War Singapore. While seemingly obscure, these trials illuminate important lessons about rule of law dynamics in war crimes trials. Though these trials were intended by their organizers to facilitate the return of British colonial rule, they resulted in unexpected acquittals and conviction non-confirmations. On the one hand, by applying British military law as a back-up source of law when prosecuting ‘violations of the laws and usages of war’, the British contravened the rule of law by retrospectively subjecting the Japanese defence to unfamiliar legal standards. On the other hand, by binding themselves to a pre-existing and relatively clear source of law, the British were constrained by the rule of law even as this empowered the Japanese defence. These findings speak to broader debates on the challenges of developing international criminal law, by provocatively suggesting that, from a rule of law perspective, what is most important in a body of law is its clarity, accessibility, and comprehensiveness rather than its source or its purported ‘universality’.
Cheah W.L., “Culture and understanding in the Singapore war crimes trials (1946-1948): interpreting arguments of the defence“, published in International Journal of Law in Context (Cambridge University Press).
After the Second World War, the British military organised 131 war crimes trials in Singapore, which served as the base for British war crimes investigations in Asia. These trials brought together diverse participants-judges and counsel from the UK, India, and other Allied countries; accused persons from Japan, Korea, and Taiwan; defence counsel from Japan; and witnesses from all over Asia. The majority of defendants in these trials did not deny their involvement in the war crimes concerned; instead, these defendants argued that their conduct was consistent with Japanese norms, beliefs and practices. This article explores trial participants’ varied and contested interpretations of the culturally influenced arguments put forward by the defence.
Cheah W.L., “Dealing with Desertion and Gaps in International Humanitarian Law: Changes of Allegiance in the Singapore War Crimes Trials“, published in Asian Journal of International Law (Cambridge University Press).
By studying British Indian Army [BIA] desertions during World War II, and British postwar trial responses, this paper explores the complicated dimensions of desertion and draws attention to the need for a more explicit and comprehensive approach to desertion in international humanitarian law. The paper focuses on less known British trials dealing with desertion, namely, war crimes trials conducted by the British in Singapore. It examines how these trials dealt with contested interpretations of desertion. Drawing on lessons from these trials, the paper then highlights gaps in today’s international humanitarian law framework, specifically, the need to take into account the realities of desertion, its different permutations, and the difficulties of differentiating between prisoners of war [POWs] and deserters.
Cheah W.L., “Walking the Long Road in Solidarity and Hope: A Case Study of the ‘Comfort Women’ Movement’s Deployment of Human Rights Discourse“, published in Harvard Human Rights Journal.
The article discusses the global human rights movement of comfort women, who suffered serious abuses by the Japan during WWII. The movement demands that Japan publically apologize and provide reparation for the acts committed. The article discusses the human rights strategy used by the movement to advance its claims and focuses on how this strategy can serve as a lesson to other similarly situated groups. The author compares the people-centric paradigm of post-conflict justice put forth by the movement with the state-centric paradigm employed by Japan. The first part of the article focuses on the early strategies of the movement, and analyzes the Hwang v. Japan decisions to dissect the litigation efforts put forth and the challenges faced. The second part discusses the impacts of the more recent human rights strategies employed which go beyond litigation, including the 2000 Womens Tribunal mock trial. Finally, the paper examines the transnational legislative campaigns brought forward by the movement in 2007 and 2008, and conducts a case study of the U.S. House Resolution 121. The author also discusses the impact of pursuing routes that go beyond litigation and how they further the movement.
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