Department of External Affairs to Legation in Washington

Cablegram unnumbered CANBERRA, 10 September 1945


A summary of the facts and findings of Sir William Webb’s report [1] on the investigation of Japanese atrocities and war crimes in the South West Pacific, together with a statement by Dr. Evatt, is being released in London and Canberra today. Following is full text of Dr. Evatt’s statement.


The report rendered by Sir William Webb, Chief Justice of Queensland, represented the findings of a most elaborate investigation conducted on behalf of the Australian Government. It is based on the testimony of over 500 Witnesses, both civilian and military, and also on documentary evidence. All the witnesses were most closely questioned and evidence was taken in substantial accordance with the canons of justice and corroboration of all atrocities was always sought and obtained. While this report related only to part of the whole field of Japanese terrorism and criminality, its contents are such as to shock and dismay the feelings of every decent human being. It reveals not only individual and isolated acts of barbarity, but also practices which are beyond the pale of accepted human conduct which could not have become general without the connivance, encouragement, and direction of superior officers up to the highest. If those responsible for these outrages are allowed to escape punishment, it will be the grossest defeat of justice and a travesty of principle for which the war has been fought. In its demand that all Japanese war criminals be brought to trial, the Australian Government is actuated by no spirit of revenge but by profound feelings of justice and of responsibility to ensure that the next generation of Australians is spared the frightful experiences of the kind which Sir William Webb’s report reveals. [We] emphasise most of all that the war crimes committed by Japanese forces in the field, while utterly wicked on the part of the actual perpetrators, are also part of a system of terrorism in which all Japanese troops and commanders participated. It is our duty to see that those who organised the system are punished and that the system itself is completely eradicated. Those at the top are, in our view, at least equally guilty with the actual perpetrators on the spot. Last week the United States Government released for publication reports of atrocities committed by the Japanese against American Nationals. These reports strengthened the confirmed policy of the Australian Government based on its own judicial findings that there should be no immunity from trial for war crimes for any Japanese whatsoever. Furthermore, it is the view of the Australian Government that the general charge of planning and waging aggressive warfare which will shortly be preferred against the major German war criminals applies equally to those in Japan who are ultimately responsible for the acts detailed in Sir William Webb’s report.

In common with the other United Nations Governments represented on the War Crimes Commission, the Australian Government has recently received from the Commission a series of recommendations for the apprehension and trial of suspected Japanese which, if they are carried out, will ensure the punishment of all culpable persons in the Japanese administration and armed forces.

The Australian Government is indicating to the War Crimes Commission not only its entire endorsement of the procedures recommended, but also, its firm view that the procedure should be put into operation without delay. These recommendations which, if properly applied, will ensure that no Japanese who deserves punishment shall escape owe much to the work of Lord Wright who is the Representative of Australia on the War Crimes Commission as well as Chairman of the Commission. Meanwhile, the Australian Government is taking suitable action to ascertain the facts in relation to all territories in which the enemy has been in contact with the Australians since 1941. With the cooperation of the military authorities testimony will be taken from Australian prisoners of war. For this purpose the Australian Government has nominated two additional judges to assist Sir William Webb whose report now summarised has been acclaimed by the War Crimes Commission as a model for the presentation of these matters.


1 The summary is on file AA : A3300/2, 45/316. The full report is in AWM : 51[182]].


[AA : A3300 T1, 1945, AG]