right to counsel

Trial and Execution on Christmas Day: Law and Justice or Pure Vengeance?

Today, Christmas Day, back in 1989, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were executed by firing squad. The deaths of the despised couple ended a quarter-century of iron-fisted rule that translated into oppression and misery for most Romanians.

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Image above

 

According to Siani-Davies, the decision to put the couple on trial was taken on the evening of December 24 by a small group of leaders worried that the security situation on Târgovişte was precarious and the Ceausescus might still be able to pose a threat.

The trial lasted for just under an hour. Watching film of the proceedings today, one is filled with a queasy sense of history at its rawest, stripped to brutal fundamentals. Here are two living people, once all powerful rulers of their country, now defenseless, about to become dead. How would it have been, one wonders, to see the show trials of King Louis XVI of France or Marie Antoinette or the trumped-up trial of Anne Boleyn? This comes pretty close. More at the Huffington Post by Alana Elsnor.

 

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After sentence was pronounced:

Elena: “We have the right to die together. Together, together!”
Nicolae: “What kind of thing is this?” (Still apparently in disbelief that his last moments are approaching).
Elena: “Don’t tie us up, don’t offend us. Please don’t touch me”
Nicolae: “I have the right to do what I want.”
Elena: “Shame, shame on you. I brought you up as a mother. Stop it. You’re breaking my arms. Let go of them. Let me go. Why are you doing this?”
A soldier: “No-one will help you now.”
Elena: “We’re powerless now.”

 

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The short trial and execution.

Excerpt from the transcript of the Trial:

PROSECUTOR: Esteemed Mr. Chairman, I have been one of those who, as a lawyer, would have liked to oppose the death sentence, because it is inhuman. But we are not talking about people. I would not call for the death sentence, but it would be incomprehensible for the Romanian people to have to go on suffering this great misery and not to have it ended by sentencing the two Ceausescus to death. The crimes against the people grew year by year. They were only busy enslaving the people and building up an apparatus of power. They were not really interested in the people.

[Picture is cut off]

After an outage of transmission of Romanian television, the speaker announces the verdict in the trial of Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu is death sentence. All their property will be impounded.

 

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Did Mr. and Mrs. Ceausescu get a fair trial? Was the presumption of innocence accorded them? Of course not. It was an impromptu proceeding. The trial was blatantly unjust. A sham. Even the Prosecutor dehumanized them.

But underserved? On the basis of vengeance and power it could arguably be a deserved outcome.

On the basis of the rule of law, as we know it, from the point of view of free liberal democracies, it was not deserved. Without due process and an open and transparent trial process, where Mr and Mrs Ceausescu could respond and defend themselves against the charges, there was no fair trial.

Some say, “Oh, but this was Romania, a totalitarian, Communist regime. What would you expect? It was a fair trial under Romania’s justice system.”

Let’s unpack that a bit. Was it a fair trial? Yes, a trial took place, Mr and Mrs. Ceausescu had a lawyer, there was a prosecutor, judges and the process was recorded. It could be said, therefore, that the players were aware of the rule of law, the universal legal philosophy that transcends global and national boundaries. Human rights are universal which means equality before the law is.

Because the Ceausescus were given a ‘trial’ one could say the rule of law was in place, that law governed. Arguably the Romanian powers knew they had a moral duty, or choice, to act according to the rule of law, that they were governed by law in their decisions and actions re the Ceausescus.

What I’m saying is that if there was no legal system/rule of law in Romania, the Ceausescus would have been summarily dispatched without any sort of hearing. That is, if individual players/officials had their way and ignored legal rules outright, the Ceausescus might have been shot on the spot. Instead the hearing was filmed and recorded. They were given a lawyer.

Seems there was every effort to apply the rule of law, or at least make it appear the rule of law was in place and administered justly and fairly to give the Ceausesus equality before the law, a fair trial. Could it be that the authorities knew to be seen as not only dispensing justice but doing it justly? Yes, the trial was window dressing (from our point of view) but arguably the Romanian powers revealed a moral position, an appreciation of international legal principles to wit: the rule of law.

 

It seems that Ceausescu’s repressive regime imprisoned people directly for speaking out against him. I heard that Mr. Trump is heading down that path . . . . .