ICC Judge Calls on Japan to Establish Laws to Address War Crimes

Tomoko Akane

BERLIN — Tomoko Akane, a Japanese judge of the International Criminal Court, believes Japan’s domestic laws are insufficient to deal with war crimes.

In a recent online interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun, Akane called on the nation to expedite efforts to nurture human resources with the aim of deterring and punishing large-scale crimes that have with a global impact.

Akane, a former public prosecutor in Japan, was elected as an ICC judge in 2018 and was part of the ICC team that issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in alleged connection with the war crime of unlawfully deporting children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.

In response to the ICC warrant, Russian authorities placed Akane and two other ICC officials on its list of wanted criminals, insisting they had violated Russian laws.

Touching upon the ICC decision, Akane said it was difficult for her to comment in her capacity as a neutral judge due to concerns about the safety of crime victims and the obstruction of investigations. However, Akane made it clear that her team had carefully examined “[related] evidence and the reasons for and necessity of the arrest.”

Putin signed a decree that grants Russian citizenship for children from the occupied territories, and the ICC believes the Russian president should be held criminally responsible over the issue.

“Arrest warrants were issued to move to the next juridical step: detaining the subjects,” Akane said. “We don’t issue [warrants] thinking there is absolutely no possibility of an arrest. Unlike Japanese warrants, [ICC warrants] have no expiration date.”

Regarding Russia’s move to put her on that country’s wanted list, Akane said, “It must not obstruct the ICC’s legal operations.”

Germany, France, Canada and other third-party countries are cooperating with the ICC over its investigation into Russia’s war crimes. Such nations can probe war crimes committed abroad due to their domestic legal systems that enable them to administer justice in their respective countries vis-a-vis offenses committed overseas. To do so, those countries have established punitive regulations under domestic laws that cover the majority of grave crimes prosecutable by the ICC, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Akane said the Japanese legal system has no punitive regulations against major war crimes, and only limited power to deal with war crimes under Japanese criminal law.

It is therefore highly unlikely that Japanese authorities would be able to investigate or prosecute crimes committed overseas that do not involve Japanese nationals, Akane said.

Under present circumstances, if a person suspected of perpetrating such crimes were to enter this nation, it would be difficult for Japanese authorities to take action, Akane said.

The ICC judge said there is a strong possibility that Japan will be asked to address and deal with war-crime issues, depending on future events in East Asia.

“It’s vital to establish a workable system [by enacting necessary laws and through other measures],” she said.

“Prosecutors, police officers and judges in Japan have a strong sense of mission,” Akane opined. “If domestic laws are laid down sufficiently, I believe such individuals will consider the issue of how best to prove war crimes. [Such laws] would also foster momentum among these people to study or get involved in practical operations overseas.”