From Charles I to Charles Taylor
14 Revolution Returns: the Trial of Nicolae Ceauşescu
The trial and execution of the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, and his wife, Elena, on 25 December 1989 compressed into a short space of time many of the events which have typified trials of heads of state throughout history: violent revolution; a cathartic trial to judge and anathematize the deposed head of state; and a swift and brutal death. The fact that it was all broadcast live on television – when the entire Western world was sitting at home enjoying Christmas – ensured that the events received maximum publicity. They provided a real-time insight into the sorts of passions which have driven political trials in the more distant past.
Yet the Ceauşescu trial also fired the starting gun for a regrettable trend. The principal charge brought against him by the kangaroo court hastily convened to execute him was for genocide. This same charge of genocide was to be decisive in the trials of the former Bolivian president García Meza Tejada (who, accused of it in January 1989, was convicted in 1993 of genocide for the massacre of eight people); General Pinochet of Chile (originally arrested in 1998 for genocide of under a hundred people); Colonel Mengistu of Ethiopia (who was convicted in absentia for genocide in 2006, just as political opponents of the new Ethiopian regime, including human rights activists, also found themselves prosecuted for genocide); Jean Kambanda of Rwanda (convicted of genocide without trial in 1998); and Slobodan Milošević (accused in 2001 of...
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