Taylor Will Not Be the First Head of State Judged by an International Tribunal

Taylor Will Not Be the First Head of State Judged by an International Tribunal

The media is widely reporting (see, for example, the Washington Post here) that later today Charles Taylor will become the first sitting or former Head of State to have his fate decided by an international tribunal.  They should really do their research: the Nuremberg Tribunal convicted Karl Doenitz, the Commander in Chief of the German Navy, who served as the President of Germany for 23 days following Hitler’s suicide.  Doenitz, Hitler’s chosen successor, was no mere figurehead; among other things, he ordered Alfred Jodl to unconditionally surrender the German armed forces to the Allies on 7 May 1945.

Get it right, media people!  I’m keeping a list…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
International Criminal Law
Notify of
Mark Kersten

Kevin: You’ll be happy to know that both The Economist (here) and Wikipedia (here) both got it right. It seems a rare occasion when Wikipedia trumps Washington Post reporting!


almost as bad as the economist reporting on the “lubango” trial. (!!!)

Mihai Martoiu Ticu

I guess I reacted under the wrong post. Here it comes again.
There are other names as well that might qualify as being the first:

* Milosevic
* Peter von Hagenbach
* “The Treaty of Versailles provided for the punishment of enemy nationals through two mechanisms: one for the Kaiser, a second for all other individuals 43 Article 227 arraigned the Kaiser ‘for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties’ before a special tribunal composed of five judges to be appointed by the US, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan. It implied that the Kaiser was liable for breaches of international law, although it did not expressly refer to the source of any individual obligations not to commit those breaches. No trial of the Kaiser ever took place: after abdicating, William II had entered the Netherlands under asylum.”, K. Parlett. The individual in the international legal system: continuity and change in international law. Cambridge University Press, 2011.



The UK’s Guardian reported that Taylor was “the first African head of state to be brought before an international tribunal” ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/26/charles-taylor-war-crimes-hague) and the UN Tumblr blog said it was the “first time since Nuremberg that an international tribunal has reached judgment in the trial of a former Head of State.” (http://united-nations.tumblr.com/post/21847131580/news-major-milestone-in-international-law)

An Hertogen

CNN has also done its homework: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/04/26/world/africa/netherlands-taylor-sentencing/?hpt=hp_c1. Now, would they read Opinio Juris or rather wikipedia?


@Mihai Martoiu Ticu
Milosevic was not TRIED, even though he was indicted (but his trial never finished, so you can’t say he has been tried). Also Willhelm II (the German Kaiser) was never tried, since the Netherlands did not extradite him. So these are no valid examples for heads of States that have been tried.
Furthermore, I agree with Darshini, that most media (that I read at least) talk about the first AFRICAN head of State to be judged or alternatively that it was the first head of State SINCE Nuremberg that was judged. Thus, not all media seem to do bad work…


[…] Dan Hull at What About Paris? notes that in Liberia: Reaction to Charles Taylor’s conviction at The Hague is mixed. Over at Opinio Juris, Kevin Jon Heller criticizes inaccurate media reporting Taylor is the first head of state judged by an international tribunal. Heller observes, […]