Friday, July 21, 2006
The 2005 List of TOP Dictators (contradiction in terms....). 2006 List pending release...
1. Omar al-Bashir, Sudan. Age 61. In power since 1989. Last year’s rank: 7
A colossal humanitarian tragedy in western Sudan’s Darfur region has uprooted 2 million people and killed 70,000, mostly through the activities of government-supported militias. This is nothing new in Sudan, where Omar al-Bashir, its dictator, has engaged in ethnic and religious persecution since seizing power in a military coup. Sudan has 6 million internally displaced persons—more than any other nation. In southern Sudan, where Christianity and traditional religions are practiced, Bashir tried to impose Islamic law in a campaign that included aerial bombing of villages and enslavement of women and children. His forces met with armed resistance, escalating to what some called a civil war between Muslims and Christians. (In Darfur, meanwhile, he has been killing Muslims.) Last month, Bashir signed a cease-fire with rebels in the south. It allows government troops to remain in southern Sudan and prohibits southerners from voting for independence for six years.
2. Kim Jong Il, North Korea. Age 62. In power since 1994. Last year’s rank: 1
Kim Jong Il slipped from first place, but not for want of trying. North Korea still ranks last in Reporters Without Borders’ international index of press freedom, and it earned Freedom House’s worst score for political rights and civil liberties for the 33rd straight year (a world record). The Ministry of People’s Security places spies in workplaces and neighbourhoods to inform on anyone who criticizes the regime, even at home. All radios and TV sets are fixed to receive only government stations. Disloyalty to Kim Jong Il and his late father, Kim Il Sung, is a punishable crime: Offences include allowing pictures of either leader to gather dust or be torn or folded. The population is divided into “loyalty groups.” One-third belong to the “hostile class.” These people receive the worst jobs and housing and may not live in the capital, Pyongyang. Below the hostiles are the estimated 250,000 held in prison camps, some for crimes allegedly committed by relatives. Executions often are performed in public.
3. Than Shwe, Burma. Age 72. In power since 1992. Last year’s rank: 2
In response to world opinion, Gen. Than Shwe freed 9000 prisoners, but hopes for a new liberalism faded when only 40 were political detainees (among more than 1000 still being held). The rest were common criminals. Than Shwe extended the house arrest of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won 80% of the vote in the last open election (1990). The arrest of opposition members resumed. Freedom of expression is not allowed; unlicensed possession of a fax machine or modem is punishable by 15 years in prison. To relocate ethnic minorities, the army destroyed 3000 villages and drove 1.2 million Burmese from their homes. In a landmark case, Unocal Corp. of California agreed to pay damages to Burmese villagers who said the military used torture, rape or murder to force them to work on the company’s pipeline.
4. Hu Jintao, China. Age 62. In power since 2002. Last year’s rank: 3
Despite China’s economic liberalization, President Hu Jintao’s government remains one of the most repressive. Some 250,000 Chinese are serving sentences in “re-education and labour camps.” China executes more people than all other nations combined, often for non-violent crimes. The death penalty can be given for burglary, embezzlement, counterfeiting, bribery or killing a panda. Hu’s government controls all media and Internet use. Defence lawyers who argue too vigorously for clients’ rights may be disbarred or imprisoned. And if minorities (such as Tibetans) speak out for autonomy, they’re labelled “terrorists,” imprisoned and tortured.
5. Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia. Age 81. In power since 1995. Last year’s rank: 5
Bending under strong international pressure, Crown Prince Abdullah and his family, who have absolute power, are holding Saudi Arabia’s first elections in 40 years—municipal elections, that is. Women may not vote or run for office, owing to “technical difficulties”: Most Saudi women don’t have the photo IDs needed to register; there aren’t enough female officials to register those who do; and men may not register women, because the sexes are forbidden to mingle in public. Worldwide, the royal family promotes an extreme form of Islam called Wahhabism, which considers all followers of other religions—even other Muslims—“infidels.” In 2004, the U.S. State Department added Saudi Arabia to its list of nations in which religious liberty is severely violated.
6. Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya. Age 62. In power since 1969.Last year’s rank: Dishonorable mention
Increasingly annoyed by other Arab leaders, Qaddafi—once considered a supporter of terrorism —has gone to great lengths to re-establish links with the West. He turned over a perpetrator of the 1988 terrorist bombing of an American commercial flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, and made substantial payments to families of the victims of both the Lockerbie bombing and that of a French plane. He gave up his nuclear weapons program and is opening his nation’s economy to foreign investment. Yet at home he continues to run a brutal dictatorship, maintaining total control over all aspects of Libyan life. Freedom of speech, assembly and religion are harshly restricted. Entire families, tribes and even towns can be punished for “collective guilt.” Political opposition and damaging public or private property are considered “crimes against the state.”
7. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan. Age 61. In power since 1999. Last year’s rank: Not mentioned
Two years after seizing power in a military coup that overthrew an elected government, Gen. Pervez Musharraf appointed himself president of Pakistan. He recently agreed to step down as head of the military, then reversed his decision, claiming that he was best suited to unite Pakistan’s contentious political and military elements. “The country is more important than democracy,” he said. Pakistan has endangered the world by spreading nuclear technology. Last year, it was discovered that Abdul Qadeer Khan, head of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, had been selling nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. As for civil liberties in Pakistan, a woman who has been raped may present her case only if she can produce four Muslim men who witnessed the attack.
8. Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan. Age 64. In power since 1990. Last year’s rank: 8
Niyazov has developed an overbearing personality cult that crushes dissent and invades all aspects of life in Turkmenistan, no matter how trivial. He controls his one-party state with torture, disappearances, detentions, house demolitions, forced labor and exile. He muzzles all media, and it is illegal to criticize any of his policies. Statues of Niyazov appear everywhere, and his picture is on all denominations of money. His “moral guide,” Rukhnama (Book of the Soul), is required reading for students, married couples and even applicants for a driver’s license. Female newscasters may not wear makeup, nor may young men wear beards, long hair or gold teeth.
9. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe. Age 80. In power since 1980. Last year’s rank: 4
After leading an anti-colonial war of liberation, Mugabe was elected Zimbabwe’s first prime minister, raising hopes for a new era of democracy. But he has turned increasingly dictatorial and run his country into the ground. Average life expectancy in Zimbabwe is 33 years—among the lowest in the world. One of Mugabe’s many repressive laws deems it a crime “to make an abusive, indecent or obscene statement” about him. He continues to hold elections, but opposition is discouraged. Looking toward a vote in March, the parliament passed a law banning from Zimbabwe any human rights or civil liberties group that receives money from abroad. In other words, independent election monitors will not be allowed.
10. Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea. Age 62. In power since 1979. Last year’s rank: 6
Since major oil reserves were discovered there in 1995, U.S. oil companies have poured $5 billion into this tiny West African nation. Most of the oil income goes to President Obiang and his family, while the majority of the people live on less than $1 a day. Some American oil companies are being investigated for improprieties involving Obiang. The U.S. State Department has accused Obiang’s government of committing torture. In November 20 people—including 11 foreign nationals —were sentenced to prison for an alleged coup attempt. The only evidence against them, says Amnesty International, were confessions extracted through torture.
By David Wallechinsky
Published: February 13, 2005