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Who is the Worst Dictator?

Posted by African Press International on April 1, 2008

(First published on 1.april 2008. Re-edited 21.February 2011)


By David Wallechinsky

There are more than 70 countries ruled by dictators who exercise arbitrary authority over their citizens and who cannot be removed from power through legal means. These tyrants suppress the freedoms of speech and religion, and the right to a fair trial. Some also commit torture, execute opponents and starve their own people. PARADE’s annual list is drawn in part on reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and the U.S. State Department. Notably, there are two leaders who did not make this year’s list: Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan, No. 8 last year, died in December; and Fidel Castro, No. 15, relinquished power in Cuba to his brother Raul on July 31. Among the newcomers are Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Vladimir Putin of Russia. Some who moved up in rank are Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, Hu Jintao of China, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Bashar al-Assad of Syria. But by no means does this indicate that those whom they passed showed improvements. Click on the names below to read more about the tyrants on our 2007 list and share your comments.

No. 1

Omar al-Bashir

Sudan. Age 63. In power since 1989. Last year’s rank: 1. 01-omar-al-bashir_sm.jpgOmar al-Bashir retains his position as the worst dictator because of his ongoing deadly human-rights abuses in the Darfur region of Sudan. Over the last four years, at least 200,000 people there have been killed by pro-Bashir forces. Nationwide, 5.3 million have been driven from their homes, and more than 700,000 have fled the country. But at the UN last September, Bashir blamed international aid groups for exaggerating the problems as a ploy to raise money for their organizations. And in November, he argued that war-related deaths in Darfur were less than 9,000. Despite agreeing to a 60-day ceasefire last month, he has been accused by his people of ordering troops to continue their attacks.

(Bashir is Wanted by the ICC in connection with crimes against humanity  – API update 2011)


No. 2. Kim Jong-il. North Korea. Age 64. In power since 1994. Last year’s rank: 2 . 02-kim-jong-il_sm.jpgLast year, Kim Jong-il attracted attention by testing a nuclear bomb, but it is his domestic human-rights abuses that make him stand out. His citizens are more shut off from the world than those of any other nation. Kim is portrayed as a weirdo or a joke. But he is actually a well-informed, wily politician who was trained for this position by his father, Kim Il-sung. While North Korea is a Communist state, the real ruling model this family has followed is ancient Confucianism, with its highly centralized and paternalistic leadership.


No.3. Sayyid Ali KhamEnei . Iran. Age 67. In power since 1989. Last year’s rank: 9. 03-sayyid-ali-khamenei_sm.jpgAlthough it is Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has alarmed the world with threatening gestures, it is actually the Ayatollah Khamenei and the 12-man Guardian Council who control all decisions regarding Iran’s relations, its nuclear program and domestic freedoms. This regime has increasingly suppressed freedom of expression: Women can be stoned to death for adultery, and in November an Iranian man was publicly hanged for homosexuality.


No. 4. Hu Jintao. China. Age 64. In power since 2002. Last year’s rank: 6.04-hu-jintao_sm.jpgChina has become such an important part of the global economy that most countries ignore its abysmal human-rights record even as it prepares to host next year’s Olympics. The U.S. State Department has identified 22 areas of human-rights abuses under Hu Jintao, among them torture, forced abortions, forced labor, detention of religious groups, government corruption and restrictions on speech and the media. Last year, citizens were executed for such nonviolent crimes as bribery and stealing oil.


No. 5. King Abdullah. Saudi Arabia. Age 83. In power since 1995. Last year’s rank: 7. 05-king-abdullah_sm.jpgBecause King Abdullah and the Saudi royal family control the world’s largest reserves of oil, the U.S. government has not acted to oppose the repressive and intolerant actions of their regime. In Saudi Arabia, it still is possible to be executed for witchcraft and flogged for being alone with an unrelated person of the opposite sex. It is illegal for a Saudi citizen to practice a religion other than Islam. According to a 2006 report by the Center for Religious Freedom, Saudi school textbooks continue to be virulently anti-Christian and anti-Semitic. Last year, the U.S. State Department judged Saudi Arabia one of the top eight offenders of religious freedom.


No. 6. Than Shwe. Burma (Myanmar). Age 74. In power since 1992. Last year’s rank: 306-than-shwe_sm.jpg, One of the most secretive world leaders, Gen. Than Shwe is rarely seen in public but made a trip abroad last month for medical treatment. While his people continue to wait for a new constitution promised 17 years ago Reporters Without Borders ranked Burma 164th out of 168 nations in its 2006 press freedom index. Among the numerous offenses for which Burmese have been arrested are selling tapes of CNN and BBC coverage of the 2004 tsunami and for hiding in the dark.


No. 7. Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe. Age 82. In power since 1980. Last year’s rank: 4. 07-robert-mugabe_sm.jpgRobert Mugabe once was hailed as a symbol of the new Africa, but under his rule the health and well-being of his people have dropped dramatically, which is as much an abuse of human rights as arbitrary arrest and torture. According to the World Health Organization, Zimbabwe has the world’s shortest life expectancy 37 years for men and 34 for women. It also has the greatest percentage of orphans (about 25%, says UNICEF) and the worst annual inflation rate (1,281% as of last month). He last allowed an election in 2002 but won only after having his leading opponent arrested for treason.


No. 8. Islam Karimov. Uzbekistan. Age 69. In power since 1989. Last year’s rank: 5. 08-islam-karimov_sm.jpgIslam Karimov was fortunate to be president of the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan when the USSR collapsed. Using the old-fashioned Soviet tactics of torture, media censorship and fake elections, he has remained in power ever since. He has banned the study of Arabic in this largely Sunni Muslim nation, shut down all billiard halls and ordered the massacre of hundreds of his citizens in the city of Andijan. The 9/11 terrorist attacks turned out to be a break for Karimov: The U.S., which previously had shunned him because of his human-rights abuses, suddenly found him to be a geographically well-placed ally. But when the Bush Administration condemned the 2005 Andijan killings, Karimov ordered American troops to leave the country.


No. 9. Muammar al-Qaddafi. Libya. Age 64. In power since 1969. Last year’s rank: 11. 09-muammar-al-qaddafi_sm.jpgAmong our Top 10, Muammar al-Qaddafi has been in charge the longest 38 years. He was only 27 when he seized power and has spent decades being a conspicuous enemy of the U.S. For most of that time, the U.S. had included Libya on its list of state sponsors of terrorism. In 2006, Qaddafi went six months without funding terrorism; in June, as a reward for doing so, President Bush removed Libya from that list. Libya now stands to reap even more economic benefits from its large oil fields. Still, it is a place where political prisoners disappear and where women who have been raped or accused of having sex out of marriage can be kept in rehabilitation homes indefinitely.

Update>(Fighting for his political life. Soon to be deposed by the people through armed struggle and demonstrations – API update 2011)


No. 10. Bashar al-Assad. Syria. Age 41. In power since 2000. Last year’s rank: 16. 10-bashar-al-assad_sm.jpgBashar al-Assad gradually has assumed greater control of the military and intelligence services. Recently, his administration was implicated in assassinations in Lebanon. A UN report, due in June, will detail Syria’s role. Assad is perhaps the unlikeliest of dictators: He was doing postgraduate work in ophthalmology in London when his late father, Syrian dictator Hafiz al-Assad, summoned him home in 1994 and began training him to run the country.


No. 11. Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Equatorial Guinea. Age 64. In power since 1979. Last year’s rank: 10. 11-teodoro-obiang-nguema_sm.jpgObiang seized control of this small, oil-rich West African nation by executing the previous dictator his uncle. In July 2003, state radio announced that Obiang is in permanent contact with The Almighty and that he can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to Hell. Obiang himself told his citizenry that he felt compelled to take full control of the national treasury in order to prevent civil servants from being tempted to engage in corrupt practices. To avoid this corruption, Obiang deposited more than half a billion dollars into accounts controlled by Obiang and his family at a bank in Washington, D.C., leading a U.S. federal court to fine the bank $16 million.


No. 12. King Mswati III. Swaziland. Age: 38. In power since 1986. Last year’s rank: 12. 12-king-mswati-iii_sm.jpgMswati III was 18 years old when he was crowned king of the Southern African nation of Swaziland. According to the constitution, he has the right to overrule all laws and rules, and it is illegal to investigate any matter relating to the him. He once bought a private jet for $44.6 million more than twice the annual health budget for the entire nation. Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world (more than 33%), and 10% of Swazi households are headed by children. The government refers to these households as sibling families. Mswati III’s power is summarized in the Swazi saying, A king is a mouth that does not lie.




No. 14. Aleksandr Lukashenko. Belarus. Age: 52. In power since 1994. Last year’s rank: 14. 14-aleksandr-lukashenko_sm.jpgLukashenko was elected independent Belarus first president in a fair election in 1994. He immediately set about squashing his opposition. Lukashenko appoints all the members of the upper house of parliament. He won 82% of the vote in the 2006 presidential election, which was not surprising considering that the campaign of his leading opponent, Aleksandr Milinkevich, was so restricted that he was reduced to handing out fliers that gave a phone number where he could be reached for an hour. Since November 2006, Milinkevich has been arrested or detained at least six times.


No. 15. Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan. Age: 63. In power since 1999. Last year’s rank: 17. 15-pervez-musharraf_sm.jpgGeneral Musharraf seized power by overthrowing an elected government. An enthusiastic supporter of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Musharraf switched sides a week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Since then the U.S. has given his regime billions in aid. However, he recently infuriated the present government of Afghanistan by agreeing to a ceasefire with pro-Taliban forces in Pakistan. Pakistan is scheduled to hold a national election within a year, but Musharraf has forbidden the country’s last two elected prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, from taking part.

Update> (Musharaf was Kicked out of power in 2010 now exiled in the UK, wanted in Pakistan in connection with corruption allegations and accused of being knowledgeable in connection with the killing of Benazir Bhutto – API update 2011)


No. 16. Choummaly Sayasone. Laos. Age: 70. In power since 2006.. Last year’s rank: Unranked.16-choummaly-sayasone_sm.jpgThe son of a farmer, General Choummaly Sayasone assumed the presidency of this old-style communist state in 2006 after spending 52 years slowly working his way up the ladder of Laos only political party. In Laos, it is possible to be arrested for a wide variety of vague, alleged offenses, such as creating division among the people, importing a publication that is offensive to the national culture, and reporting misleading news. Premarital cohabitation is illegal, as is having sex with a foreigner.


No. 17. Meles Zenawi. Ethiopia Age: 51. In power since 1995. Last year’s rank: 18. 17-meles-zenawi_sm.jpgA former medical student, Meles Zenawi began his political career by joining a Stalinist guerilla group in 1974. Twenty-one years later he gained power after overthrowing Ethiopia’s much-reviled dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam. In order to satisfy Western demands for a multi-party democracy, Meles created puppet parties for each of the nation’s major ethnic groups, while the real parties boycotted his elections. In 1998, he subjected his people to an unnecessary border war with Eritrea that caused thousands of deaths. He agreed to international arbitration to settle the border, but when the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruled against him, Meles refused to abide by the decision and kept for Ethiopia land that belonged to Eritrea.

spacerNo. 18.Hosni Mubarak Egypt. Age: 78. In power since 1981. Last year’s rank: Unranked .18-hosni-mubarak_sm.jpg Mubarak joined the Egyptian military at an early age and gradually rose in command for 25 years until he was appointed Egypt’s vice-president in 1975. When President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981, Mubarak took his place and has ruled the nation under a state of emergency ever since. Every six years, he stages a rigged election to maintain his position as president. For the latest one, in 2005, no international observers were allowed. Reports of the torture of prisoners in Egypt are frequent, credible and widespread. Under the Emergency Law, Mubarak has the right to arrest people without charge.
Update> (Mubarak Kicked out by the people 2011 – API update 2011)
spacerNo. 19. Paul Biya Cameroon. Age: 73. In power since 1982. Last year’s rank: Unranked. 19-paul-biya_sm.jpgIndependent Cameroon’s first dictator, Ahmadou Ahidjo, resigned after 22 years in power when his French doctors convinced him that he had a terminal illness. He didn’t, but by the time he realized this, his replacement, Paul Biya, was safely in place, and Ahidjo had to flee the country. Cameroon has the reputation of being one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Biya is credited with instituting one of the more creative tactics in the history of rigged elections. After international election-monitoring groups denounced his elections as designed to fail, Biya hired his own group of international monitors. Made up of ex-U.S. congressmen of both parties, the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress declared Cameroon’s 2004 election as free and fair. Another observer group, led by former Canadian prime minister Joe Clark, arrived earlier and denounced as rigged the registration process, which the U.S. group had missed.
spacerNo. 20.Vladimir Putin. Russia. Age: 54. In power since 1999. Last year’s rank: Unranked. 20-vladimir-putin_sm.jpgAccording to the U.S. State Department, Russia engages in 17 different categories of human rights abuses. Prison conditions are described as frequently life-threatening. In 2004 alone, according to official statistics, more than 2,000 prisoners died while in pretrial detention. Although Vladimir Putin has stated that he will not run for reelection in 2008, he has greatly centralized power in the executive branch, even eliminating the election of regional governors and appointing them himself instead. He has dramatically strengthened the secretive Federal Security Service, and appointed to almost all of the government’s most important positions people who, like Putin, served in the KGB or its successor agencies. A recently passed election bill forbids creating a negative image of political opponents, which means that challenging Putin or his policies will be illegal.
Update>(Putin is Now serving as Prime Minister 2011 but is said to be a man-in-waiting to retake the presidency – API update 2011)

One Response to “Who is the Worst Dictator?”

  1. Anonymous said

    all bad


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