[private] Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Moamar El-Khadhafi in Libya and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia–all were pushed from power in 2011. It was definitely a bad year for dictators and a good year for democracy. Still, more than 40 nations around the world remain under authoritarian control. According to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Global Witness, Georgetown University and the US State Department, here is a list of the five worst dictators still around.
In North Korea, Kim Jong IL died of a heart attack on December 17, 2011, at the age of 69, having been in power for 17 years. Nothing is expected to change since he has been succeeded by his son Kim Jong Un. With a standing army of 1.2 million, North Korea has a population of 25 million who live in misery. Over 40 percent of children under five are believed to be so malnourished that their growth has been stunted. All mail and phone communication by citizens is monitored, and internet access is limited to party loyalists. Some 200,000 prisoners toil in slave labor camps, where they are starved and tortured. Despite UN sanctions North Korea continues a nuclear enrichment program.
In Eritrea, Isaias Afewerki, age 65, has been in power for 20 years. Afewerki once led Eritrea to independence, but today he deprives his fellow citizens of all freedoms. There is no formal constitution, and every male starting at age 18 must enter “National Service,” which is forced labor of indefinite length. Evaders are jailed or killed. People with unsanctioned religious beliefs and practices are imprisoned and tortured, as are journalists and activists. More than 50,000 Eritreans have fled their county and escaped to refugee camps in Ethiopia. Western officials have accused Afewerki of aiding Al-Qaeda linked militants in Somalia.
In Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, age 67, has been in power for 22 years. Although he took power in a bloodless coup, his tenure has been marked by extreme violence. In 2011, the country was divided into two entities–Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan–but strife continues unabated. In the region under dispute with South Sudan, Al Bashir’s military has bombed civilians, killing untold numbers and causing over 100,000 to flee. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has officially charged Al-Bashir with crimes against humanity and also alleges that he has embezzled billions of dollars from his country.
In Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, age 73, has been in power for 21 years. Raised in an orphanage, Karimov rose through Communist Party ranks to control this former Soviet Republic. Journalists, activists, and anyone practicing a religion other than the accepted form of Islam are often jailed. It is believed that thousands of prisoners are currently being held and tortured. Each year, university students, teachers, civil servants and children as young as nine are forced to live in barracks and harvest cotton under inhumane conditions. Karimov’s health is thought to be poor, and some believe his eldest daughter is being groomed to succeed him.
In Syria, Bashar Al-Assad has been in power for 11 years. Assad, age 46, is a trained ophthalmologist who succeeded his father as Syria’s tyrant in chief. Syrians began revolting against this despot last March (2011). Assad has responded by ordering the military to bomb and fire on crowds. As of this writing, over 7,500 demonstrators, including hundreds of children, have been killed, with over 10,000 jailed or missing. The United States and most of Europe have condemned Assad’s actions, imposed sanctions and called for his resignation. Even the Arab League has placed economic sanctions of its own and recently sent in monitors. However, the situation remains volatile. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Hopefully 2012 will be an equally bad year for dictators as was 2011. [/private]