10 executions that defined the 1990s

Hindsight is this blog‘s whole milieu, so even though our reactions are now conditioned by an intervening decade, we’re pleased to follow up our popular “10 executions that defined the 2000s” post with this retrospective on the 1990s. Hey, what could go wrong with a prequel?

We take you back to the days before Y2K. Communism had fallen, violent nationalism was back in style, a self-styled “hyperpower” went all-in on neoliberalism, and a little thing we call the Internet began minting increasingly preposterous millionaires. As always, the world’s hangmen, headsmen, triggermen and, increasingly, plunger-pushers just kept plugging away at yesteryear’s harvest of evildoers (or good-doers).

Whatever else it may have left the world, it certainly left a decade’s worth of noteworthy executions.

10. Zarmina

This secretly-filmed video of a woman being shot through the head in a Kabul stadium in 1999 generated worldwide disgust with the Taliban.

9. Chen Chin-hsing

Author of a crime spree that captivated and terrified a nation, Chen (with two accomplices who didn’t live to face the courts) “shook public confidence in law and government with the kidnap-murder of a TV celebrity’s daughter and a string of subsequent gun battles, killings, rapes and a hostage drama.” (Don’t forget about the underground plastic surgery!) His deadly seven months on the very public lam toppled the Taiwanese government and created one of the world’s highest-profile pro-death penalty activists.

8. The Tupac Amaru rebels

This dwindling band of softhearted leftist guerrillas took the Japanese embassy in Lima hostage for 126 days. Then-Peruvian strongman (today, Peruvian prisoner) Alberto Fujimori had the embassy taken by storm — and the rebels all shot on the spot.

7. Farzad Bazoft

Reporter for the London Observer hanged as a spy in Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq for sniffing around its weapons programs. A few months later, Iraq invaded Kuwait and western protests — somewhat pro forma in the moment, since Iraq was still an ally — suddenly became very explosive.

6. Ricky Ray Rector

Trying to shed his party’s soft-on-crime image, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton burnished his hip conservative-Democrat credentials by leaving the presidential campaign trail to oversee Rector’s execution personally — even though the cop-killer, lobotomized by a suicide attempt, famously saved the pie from his last meal to finish “later”.

As president, Clinton made good on the promise implicit in this execution.

5. Andrei Chikatilo

This infamous Ukrainian madman’s decade-long spree of sexual savagery was notoriously abetted by clumsy police work paralyzed of admitting a serial killer in the waning days of the Soviet workers’ republic.

4. Rosalie Gicanda

Revered Tutsi Queen Dowager whose summary execution with her ladies-in-waiting at the onset of the Rwanda genocide signaled that nobody was safe.

3. Ken Saro-Wiwa

“The ecological war that the Company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the Company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.” This Ogoni artist and activist remains a potent emblem long after he was hanged by the Nigerian dictatorship for the security of Shell’s oil fields.

2. Mohammed Najibullah

The man at the very hinge of the post-Cold War world, this last of the Soviet-backed Afghan rulers was hauled out of a U.N. compound and lynched on a traffic pylon by the conquering Taliban.

1. Srebrenica

The most dread name from the post-Yugoslavia dirty wars is that of the town where Ratko Mladic’s Serbian army slaughtered 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in July 1995.

Honorable Mentions

A few other executions to remember the 1990s by…

On this day..

1916: Sergeant John Robins, before evacuating Gallipoli

On this date in 1916, Sergeant John Robins of the 5th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment — demoted for the occasion to Private — was shot “at a point on the beach 400 yards North of the mouth of the Gully Ravine” for disobeying orders.

This redundantly named topography was a feature of an ill-starred (for the British) peninsula Robins’s army was quite ready to see the back of: Gallipoli.*

Winston Churchill’s brainchild for a knockout punch in the First World War had long since come to grief — the enduring grief of the British, Australian, and New Zealand troops who died by the thousands under Ottoman guns whilst attempting to seize the Dardanelles, open the Black Sea, knock the Turks out of the war, and expose the Central Powers’ soft underbelly.

It didn’t do any of those things, but it did help Mel Gibson’s career.

The first days of 1916 were the very last days of the Gallipoli campaign, by which time the object was just to get out.

Actually, the invaders’ positions had been steadily, stealthily evacuated over the preceding weeks — successfully slipping away without alerting the Ottomans to the opportunity for a turkey shoot. The evacuation, at least, was a triumph.

Sergeant Robins was a part of this hot mess; he’d once had to flee from his bed when the Turks surprised his camp and overran it. But it didn’t seem to be jangled nerves that did him in so much as the everyday infirmity of the flesh.

By December 1915, a quarter of his unit was laid up on the sick rolls, but when Robins begged off a patrol assignment for unwellness, the powers that be didn’t reckon him among the legions of ill — but court-martialed him for refusing an order. A rather stunned Robins attempted to explain:

On the night in question I was not well enough to go out. I was eight and a half years in India where I suffered a good deal from fever and ague, and I still get fits of this. I had been suffering from this for several days off and on, and the wet weather had greatly affected me. I have been out here for nearly five months and this is the first trouble I have ever been in. I have always done my duty. This would not have happened if I had been quite well. At the time I did not realise the seriousness of what I did.

He realised the seriousness when he was shot at 8 a.m. on January 2, 1916. A week later, his unit — all his countrymen’s units — were out of Gallipoli.

On this day..