Leadership is a great honor and everyone who has ever held a position, regardless of how small, knows that it is a huge responsibility. In the past, kings and queens used to have all the power, and the advantage that these royal families had over the present systems of governments is that they would rule for life.
The presidents and the prime ministers we have today have to work hard to get the opportunity to lead their nations, power that can be taken away from them by the people who elected them to office. The problem with many of the leaders we have today is that, as soon as they rise to power, they forget that they have a responsibility to the people, and instead focus on making themselves rich and even more powerful.
Some leaders start so well, but when they face the slightest challenges, they turn and become brutal dictators, who do everything in their power to crush any form of opposition and look for ways to remain in office indefinitely. Such leaders forget that a time will come when they will face the consequences of their actions, because every deed, whether good or bad, has its reward.
Although we do have some good leaders out there that do their best to improve the lives of their people, the others need to look back at what nations do to leaders who thought they could get away with anything.
Here is a list of the heads of state who were sentenced to death immediately after they were removed from power. At least one is still alive, others were pardoned, but the majority faced the executioners, even on the same day of their trials. Which of these do you think did not deserve such a harsh sentence?
15. Chun Doo-hwan – South Korea
Chun Doo-hwan is probably the only president who has ever been sentenced to death but is still alive even today. Chun was the fifth president of South Korea, ruling from 1980 to 1988, despite also serving as the country’s leader from December 1979, a period that he served as an unelected leader.
After his predecessor, Choi Kyu-hah announced his decision to resign from being president, 2,525 Electoral College voters met in Jang Choong Gymnasium and voted for Chun to be his successor. However, the sad thing about Chun becoming president is that he became a dictator, and his time in office is infamous for nepotism, cronyism, and the brutal suppression of democracy, where he abolished all the political parties.
The new constitution enacted during his leadership still gave him too much power, but he managed to be re-elected and rule for another term. In 1996, Chun was sentenced to death owing to his participation in the Gwangju Massacre, but Kim Young-Sam, the then-president, pardoned him.
14. Jean-Bédel Bokassa – Central African Republic
Jean-Bédel Bokassa was the second president of this country and, afterward, from 1976 to 1979, he declared himself the Emperor of Central Africa, since he was a military dictator. When the Central African Republic gained independence in 1960, President Dacko appointed Bokassa the head of the armed forces, who went ahead to oust the president and declare himself president in 1966.
Bokassa was a terrible president, reigning terror on all the citizens and taking up all the important posts in the government for himself. His self-appointment to “Emperor” was terrible for the economy in 1976, since his coronation ceremony cost the country a whooping $20 million, which would translate to $80 million today, and his diamond-encrusted crown cost $5 million at that time.
In 1979, he arrested hundreds of schoolchildren and personally oversaw the imperial guard massacring 100 of them, for refusing to purchase uniforms from one of his wife’s companies. In September 1979, with assistance from French paratroopers, Dacko regained the presidency and Bokassa was exiled to France.
Although he was absent, Bokassa was tried and sentenced to death. His return in 1986 sent him to trial for murder and treason, with his death sentence being commuted to life in solitary confinement and he was later freed in 1993.
13. Celal Bayar – Turkey
Celal Bayar was Turkey’s prime minister from 1937 to 1939, and later the president from 1950 to 1960. Bayer resigned from his prime ministerial post in 1939 following a difference of opinion with the then-president and formed the Democratic Party with Adnan Menderes and other politicians in 1946.
The Democratic Party won the 1950 elections, making Bayer the president and Adnan Menderes the prime minister. The 1955 anti-Greek Istanbul Pogrom would come back to haunt the president and his prime minister five years later, since the armed forces carried out a successful coup d’état, sending the leaders of the government to trial for constitutional violations.
The Junta-appointed Kangaroo court found them guilty and sentenced them to death. However, the military committee altered Bayer’s sentence to life imprisonment. After serving four years of his sentence, ill health led to his release from prison, and then a pardon and the restoration of his full political rights. Bayer died in 1986 at the age of 103, following a short illness.
12. Émile Derlin Zinsou – Benin
Émile Derlin Zinsou was the president of Benin, which was at the time called Dahomey, from July 1968 to December 1969. Immediately after Dahomey’s independence, Zinsou first became the ambassador to France; he then became the Foreign Affairs minister, and later became the secretary-general candidate for Francophone Africa to the Organization of African Unity.
The electoral boycott and coup in 1967 by the military led to Zinsou becoming president. During his presidency, he set up measures to counter strikes and smuggling, and he set up a very efficient tax collection system. Although they were great measures, the military officers did not like his independent actions, leading to Maurice Kouandété, his chief of staff, ousting him.
Zinsou decided to move to France and rejected an offer to join the presidential council. Janvier Assogba attempted a coup, and since it failed, Zinsou was accused of being part of the organizers and, despite his absence, was sentenced to death. However, Zinsou never faced the courts or got executed for the alleged crimes, since he died in July 2016 in Benin at 98 years.
11. Edralin Marcos – The Philippines
Edralin Marcos was the 10th president of the Philippines. He was in office from December 1965 to February 1986 – a regime infamous for widespread corruption and brutal rule. From 1972 to 1981, Marcos was a dictator, the period during which his government started constructing exceptional monuments and engaging in a number of ambitious infrastructure projects.
Marcos was one of the founders of Maharlika – an anti-Japan guerrilla group – and fought against the Japanese invasion alongside the United States. The interesting thing about Marcos’ sentencing to death is that it occurred in 1939 – more than 25 years before he became the president of the nation – but an appeal in the Supreme Court overturned the decision.
The reason for his earlier conviction was his alleged killing of Julio Nalundasan, with two people claiming to have witnessed the crime. Marcos’ death in 1989 resulted from lung, heart, and kidney ailments, while he was in exile in Hawaii.
10. Alphonse Massamba-Débat – Congo
Alphonse Massamba- Débat was Congo’s president from 1963 to 1968, a leadership where his government attempted scientific socialism as a political and economic strategy for the country.
By his second year in office, he declared Congo a one-party state and campaigned for nationalization. Alphonse chose to align Congo with Communist China and the USSR, and he allowed the communist guerrillas to have a base within the country. Alphonse tried to form militia units and to place the whole military under one command – attempts that led to a failed coup, thanks to assistance from the several hundred Cuban troops who sheltered the government officials.
The failed coup was the cause of so much tension between the country’s administration and the military, which ended with the chair of the party that elected Alphonse overthrowing the government. Alphonse was placed under house arrest and was later executed in circumstances that are not so clear.
9. Imre Nagy – Hungary
Imre Nagy was a communist politician from Hungary, who served in the capacity of Hungary’s prime minister. He served as the Council of Ministers of the Hungarian People’s Republic chairperson on two separate occasions – first from July 1953 to April 1955 and a second time from October 1956 to November 1956.
Although popular demand led him to become the prime minister for the second time, his second reign ended up being very short – but it was quite eventful. His second rise to power came at the height of the 1956 anti-Soviet revolution, which he joined and withdrew Hungary from the Warsaw Pact.
Nagy appealed to the United Kingdom and the United States, through the United Nations, to consider Hungary a neutral state, and he went further towards establishing a multiparty political system.
8. Adnan Menderes – Turkey
Ali Adnan Menderes was the ninth prime minister of Turkey and was in office from 1950 to 1960. Together with Celal Bayar, a former prime minister, and a few other politicians, he founded the Democratic Party in 1946, which would go up against the Republican People’s Party.
In Turkey’s first free election in 1950, the Democratic Party won 52% of the votes, making Menderes the new prime minister. The Democratic Party won two more elections in 1954 and in 1957, where the prime minister also took up the role of foreign minister in 1955.
The 10 years under Menderes’ leadership were some of the best years that Turkey had ever seen, where the economy grew at a record 9% per annum, and the country joined NATO. In addition, sectors including education, energy, healthcare, transport, and banking improved greatly, and the mechanization of Agriculture transformed the industry.
7. Chen Gongbo – China
Chen Gongbo was the president of the Republic of China from September 1944 to August 1945. Before becoming president, his predecessor, Wang Jingwei, set up a collaborationist Nanjing Nationalist Government that was pro-Japanese and, despite opposing the move earlier on, he followed suit and became the speaker in that government. Japan turned over minimal rule over Shanghai to The Nanjing Nationalist Government in 1940, leading to the appointment of Chen to the mayoral post.
Chen became president when Wang Jingwei died in November 1944. When the Second World War ended in 1945, Chen went to hide in Japan, but he was extradited to China to face trial. Although Chen vigorously defended himself at the trial, he could not save himself.
6. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – Pakistan
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto served as Pakistan’s fourth president from 1971 to 1973 and, immediately after, served as the ninth prime minister from 1973 to 1977. He was the founder and chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party, and he had followers who regarded him highly throughout his leadership.
Bhutto became president in December 1971, after a hotly contested election that threatened to break up the country. He started rebuilding the country by trying to restore people’s confidence and their hope for better days to come. By his second year as president, he had recovered at least 93,000 prisoners of war, 5000 square miles of territory held by India, and he built a stronger relationship with Saudi Arabia, China, and the Soviet Union.
His leadership led to the improvement of many sectors and industries, and further economic and political reforms following the discovery of ammunition meant for Iraqi rebels.
5. Amir-Abbas Hoveyda – Iran
Amir-Abbas Hoveyda was Iran’s prime minister from January 1965 to August 1977 – the longest serving prime minister Iran has ever had. Before serving as the prime minister, he had served as the deputy prime minister and the minister of finance.
The Iranian Revolution led to the establishment of the Revolutionary Court, which found Amir-Abbas guilty of over 17 offenses and sentenced him to death. Some of the accusations included spreading corruption on earth, fighting God, his creatures, and the Viceroy of Imam Zaman, and offering up underground natural resources such as oil, copper, and uranium, to foreigners, among others.
The trial was anything but fair since most of the charges had no substantiations and the court was not interested in evidence from investigations conducted, because the charges stemmed from rumors. Furthermore, the court seemed to ignore the rule of innocence until proven guilty and was clearly not out to dispense an impartial judgment.
He was supposed to be executed by a firing squad, but Hojatoleslam Hadi Ghaffari shot him twice in the neck and left him lying on the ground in agonizing pain, begging the executioners to finish him off, which they did.
4. Francisco Macías Nguema – Equatorial Guinea
Equatorial Guinea is one of the few countries in the world to have had a first president that it sentenced to death. Francisco Macías Nguema became president in 1968 and, barely a year later, had the European Commission and the United Nations condemn his poor leadership.
In 1968, Nguema executed a few of his own family members, leading people, and especially those of his inner circle, to think that he had lost the ability to think and act rationally. His nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who had been a vice minister of the Armed Forces and a military governor, overthrew President Nguema on August 3, 1979.
Nguema was tried in a military tribunal convened by the Supreme Military Council and found guilty of genocide, embezzlement of funds, treason, and violation of human rights, among other offenses. He received 101 death sentences and his property was confiscated. Since there was no higher court to appeal the decision, a Moroccan Army firing squad executed the sentence on the same day of the trial.
3. Nicolae Ceauşescu – Romania
Nicolae Ceaușescu was Romania’s first head of state and the country’s last communist leader, serving in office from 1967 to 1989. Ceaușescu began his rule moderately, but fast became ruthless and repressive. He controlled the media and freedom of speech strictly even by Soviet standards, and he did not tolerate internal disagreements. He had a secret police called the Securitate, which had unmatched brutality the world over.
Ceaușescu continued to have terrible relationships with other countries, including the Soviet Union. He exercised nepotism and lowered Romania’s living standards drastically when he ordered for the exportation of most of the country’s industrial and agricultural production. When he ordered the country’s security forces to shoot at the antigovernment demonstrators in Timisoara, he sparked the Romanian Revolution that led to the removal of the communist government.
Ceaușescu, together with his wife, tried to flee the capital, but the armed forces caught up with them. On Christmas Day, a special military tribunal tried and convicted him on charges of sabotaging the economy and genocide. Ceaușescu and his wife were executed the same day by a firing squad.
2. Mohammad Najibullah – Afghanistan
Mohammad Najibullah, otherwise known as Dr. Najib was Afghanistan’s president from 1987 to 1992. Earlier on, Najibullah was the head of KHAD, an Afghan equivalent of the KGB in the Soviet Union, a period in which it was at the peak of its brutality.
When Najibullah was president, the Soviets commenced their withdrawal from Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992, a period in which he tried to solve civil war problems in his country without assistance from the Soviet troops. Although he tried building support for his government by removing communism and making Afghanistan into an Islamic state, he did not win any support.
When the Soviet Union dissolved, Najibullah lost all foreign aid and his government collapsed. From 1992 to 1996, Najibullah lived in Kabul in the United Nations headquarters. However, when the Taliban took over Kabul, they flushed him out, castrated him, dragged him around the streets behind a pickup truck, and hung him in public from a tree using a piano wire noose.
1. Saddam Hussein – Iraq
Saddam was Iraq’s fifth president from July 1979 to April 2003. When he was the vice president, he carefully controlled the conflict between the armed forces and the government, he nationalized the industries including oil, he controlled the state-owned banks, and almost bankrupted every system due to the UN sanctions, the Gulf War, and the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam used the oil money to grow Iraq’s economy and, in 1979, he became president.
During his tenure, he suppressed movements that sought independence or to overthrow the government, he opposed the United States, attacked Israel, and got even more brutal throughout his dictatorship. Some of the lowest body count estimates of Saddam’s genocides and purges were as high as 250,000.
A coalition of countries invaded Iraq, deposed Saddam, and helped the country to hold its elections. Saddam was charged with killing 148 Iraqi Shi’ites, amongst other crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to death and was hanged on December 30, 2006.