The Singapore War Crimes Trials Web Portal was launched on the evening of the 29th of August 2016. The Singapore Law Review enjoyed the privilege of co-organising the launch with the Portal’s co-researchers, Dr Cheah Wui Ling (Assistant Professor, National University of Singapore) and Ms Ng Pei Yi (NUS alumni and Legal Counsel, Travelport (Asia-Pacific)).
Not many know about the war crimes trials which were held in Singapore post-WWII. The Portal is primarily aimed at furthering public interest and knowledge about these trials, long overshadowed by more prominent war trials in Nuremburg and Tokyo. The Portal provides in-depth and one-stop coverage of a key aspect of Singapore’s legal heritage. It is also hoped that the Portal will aid the ongoing reconciliation process, with its neutral but complete content on the 131 trials conducted in Singapore. After all, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Such was the message conveyed by the keynote speaker of the evening, Professor Walter Woon, who spoke about the importance of dispelling post-war myths in Japan which justify her wartime aggression. He raised the example of how Germany broke a vicious cycle of blame and historical revisionism by firmly accepting the burden of blame for starting WWII. He emphasised that reconciliation requires sincere acknowledgment and knowledge of history, no matter how painful it may be. He praised the Web Portal as “an invaluable resource that allows everyone to have access” to information which may aid this process of reconciliation.
Following Professor Woon’s keynote speech, the small but diverse audience was treated to short presentations by several distinguished panellists. Dr Cheah was our first panellist of the evening. She introduced the key aims of the Portal.
Our next two speakers spoke about efforts in the post-war healing process. Mr Akira Kawasaki, a member of the Executive Committee of the Tokyo-based non-governmental organisation Peace Boat, spoke of Japanese government censorship regarding Japan’s past military aggression in the region, and how Peace Boat aims to combat that through creating a neutral space for peaceful dialogue. The Web Portal to him was an admirable project, one that would aid the Japanese civil society’s efforts for reconciliation.
Ms Fiona Barnaby (Legal Advisor, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Kuala Lumpur) spoke of the importance of neutrality. Born on the battlefield in 1863, the ICRC personifies neutrality; it cares not which side wins or even starts the war, but rather concerns itself with the victims and subsequent healing. As such, the Portal, which has refrained from including evaluations in its content, is a tangible asset.
Our final two panellists were Portal co-researcher Ms Ng and Ms Rina Lim (Founder and Managing Director, Quirk Pte Ltd), who presented together on the conceptualisation and design aspects of the Portal.
The launch ended with a lively question-and-answer session. Some of the members of the audience shared war stories of their forebears and praised the accessibility and completeness of the Portal. Other questions touched on the completeness of the information presented in the Portal, highlighting one unfortunate shortfall of the trials: as they were held in a hasty fashion, what information remains is sadly fragmented. However, the panel was confident that this should only spur on efforts to preserve any knowledge that we still hold.
The evening came to a close with a dinner reception, during which many of the members of the audience could be seen approaching panellists with questions of their own.
The Portal was generously supported by the Singapore National Heritage Board and Singapore Academy of Law. The Singapore Law Review is honoured to have been a part of capturing this parcel of Singapore’s legal history, and would like to thank Dr Cheah and Ms Ng for the opportunity to co-organise the launch of the Portal.
Writers: Fabian Chiang, Grace Teo
Photo credits: Hang Ying Yao