I refer to the opinion by Datuk Dr Fauziah Mohd Taib, ‘All is not lost despite Rome Statute withdrawal’ (New Straits Times, May 12).
The writer supports her defence of Malaysia’s withdrawal from the statute by referring to Japan’s imperial history. However, her historical analysis has some errors.
Her premise is that Malaysians should not be so naive into thinking that our royals are immune from being “hauled up” by the International Criminal Court (ICC). She cites Japan’s role in World War 2 and the position of Emperor Hirohito, Japan’s longest-reigning emperor (1926 to 1989). Hirohito was an absolute monarch, contrary to what was written.
The Meiji constitution was the constitution of the Empire of Japan, proclaimed in 1889 until 1947. It provided for a mix of constitutional and absolute monarchy. In theory, the emperor was the supreme leader, and the prime minister and cabinet were his followers.
While in theory the Meiji constitution contained underpinnings of democracy, in practice it created an absolute monarchy centred around, and with all power emanating from, the emperor. He played a central role in the governance of Japan, had absolute executive power and a supreme “god-like” aura.
While he did not engage in the administration of the government, the emperor’s political role was inseparable from his religious role as Shinto leader. The emperor’s executive powers were clear when Hirohito declared war on the United States in 1941.
Controversy erupted after the war ended, with the International Military Tribunal’s death sentence for prime minister Hideki Tojo. As general of the Imperial Japanese army and prime minister, Tojo was hanged for war crimes.
Many felt that Hirohito should be held responsible. The confusion exists till today because of the false premise that Hirohito was a constitutional monarch. Meaning, despite his position in the constitution, why was the possibility of trying him even considered?
The other error is in the legacy of US General Douglas MacArthur. The sensation surrounding Japanese calls for Hirohito’s abdication deserves attention. The imperial family were adamant that he should accept responsibility for the defeat. He “disgraced” Japan by losing the war.
MacArthur served as the Allied commander in occupied Japan. His role was to set Japan up for democratic rule. He used Hirohito as his tool. Rather than eliminate the position of emperor, he ensured a peaceful transition by imposing democracy through imperial institutions. As a result, his creation of a new Japan was practical, efficient and bloodless.
It is only at this period, after 1946, that Hirohito transitioned from absolute monarch to constitutional monarch.
The opinion also said Hirohito was pardoned. The US cover-up of Japanese crimes was engineered by MacArthur.
While a series of war tribunals was organised, many of the high-ranking officials and doctors who devised and performed (inhumane) experiments were pardoned. Conversely, on Jan 1, 1946, Hirohito issued a proclamation denying his divinity and denouncing “radical tendencies” among his people. There was no question of a pardon.
In Malaysia, the power to declare war is decided by Parliament. In theory, a declaration of war would be announced by the prime minister. It is similar to the British system. Malay rulers, historically, accepted their status as constitutional sovereigns.
Under Article 41 of the constitution, there are clauses related to the office of the supreme commander of the armed forces, which is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
None of these explicitly provide for the declaration of war to be in the hands of the king.
Therefore, it is unlikely that ICC could establish the king’s individual or command responsibility under the Rome Statute (Article 27) based on provisions in our constitution.
History is a necessary tool for nation-building, provided it is quoted accurately, honestly and diligently.