Born in Kustia( now in Bangladesh) in 1886, Radha Binod Pal studied mathematics at Presidency College and then Law at Law College of Calcutta University. He also taught at Law College from 1923 to 1936. In 1941, he was made a Judge of Calcutta High Court. From 1944 to 1946 he was also the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University. But his moment of glory came in 1946, when he was sent by the Government of India as one of the Judges for Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. Why he was chosen it is difficult to say – for Justice Pal had clear sympathy for the nationalists, including Subhas Bose’s INA. But apparently he was chosen by his chief Justice, an Englishman.
One among the 11 international jurists, he delivered the lone dissenting judgment at the trial. He believed that the Tribunal itself was a farce and nothing more than victors’ justice imposed on vanquished Japanese. He refused to accept that only Japan provoked the war. He, in fact concluded that USA had provoked Japan into war. He found defendants not guilty of Class A war crimes and refused to apply (newly coined) charges like crime against Humanity. He said exclusion of Western Colonialism and use of Atom Bomb from the list of charges is unacceptable. However it would be wrong to assume that Justice Pal was unduly favouring the Japanese. He found Japanese wartime conduct as ‘devilish and fiendish’; he also found overwhelming evidence of atrocities committed by the Japanese Army during the war. Yet, he believed strongly that the Tribunal itself was an act of retribution and as such incapable of producing any balanced verdict or contributing to any lasting peace. His judgment since then has been a landmark in international law for its reasoning.
Justice Pal’s 1200-odd page judgment was banned by the Allies. In 1952, Japan was forced to sign San Francisco Treaty and accept the verdict of Tokyo Trial. As the American occupation of Japan ended Justice Pal’s dissenting judgment came out as a book. And it provided the basis for neo-nationalist movement in Japan that Tokyo trial was a sham and Japan was not guilty of war crimes. In subsequent Japanese political and popular discourse, his criticism of Japan was forgotten and only the positive part was highlighted.