“Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it” – William Pitt the Elder, British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1768.

Our nations’ leaders are supposed to be paragons of virtue and strength, ever striving to better the populace’s lot in life and aid their country’s economic and social progress. The reality, however, can be very different to this ideal. Below is a list of ten of the most evil dictators still alive today.

10. King Mswati III, Swaziland

Even though over 25% (some sources say the figure is perhaps as high as 40%) of his 1.3 million subjects are HIV positive, the highest per capita in the world, King Mswati III is seemingly unsympathetic, remarking that all HIV-positive people should be “sterilized and branded.”

In a slightly more moderate approach to the AIDS epidemic, he passed a law in 2001 which prohibits girls from having sex until they reach 21 and even forces them to wear tassels to highlight their virginity. A fine of one cow is punishment for any man who breaks this law. When Mswati himself broke his own law after selecting an under-age wife (his eighth), he simply fined himself a single cow and married her anyway.

Mswati’s incompetence as a ruler doesn’t stop there: political parties are banned, the death penalty can be issued for any crime, debtors’ prisons are extant, and ‘Royal Decree Number 2 of 2001’ allowed him to ban any newspaper that criticized his reign and overturn any court ruling he wished. Of this decree, Mswati said: “I must admit that when I signed this decree I did not read it at all. I just signed it.” The decree was later repealed following international pressure.

Life expectancy in Swaziland has plummeted significantly over the last two decades and now stands at a shocking 31 years, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres. In 2004, 1 in 10 households were headed by children. In a country where 25% of the population depend upon food aid, and where the health budget is a mere $15 million, Mswati III – a “dictator with few checks and balances” – still manages to have a string of luxury properties and expensive cars (the photography of which is banned).

9. Hu Jintao, China

The Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China has presided over a decade of steady economic resurgence in China. Hu Jintao’s hardline approach has ensured that the country has blossomed into a major player on the world stage. But some of this progress has come on the backs of less fortunate people.

Hu Jintao’s leadership has an abysmal human rights record; total control of all media, the employment of a massive 40,000 ‘internet security agents’ to monitor web users and block news sites and search engines; 200,000 detainees undergoing ‘re-educative sentences’ in forced labor camps; thousands of executions every year (a figure which is more than the rest of the world combined); and arrests dissidents like Hu Jia (who was sentenced to 3 years in prison in April 2008) for calling for democratic reforms.

Hundreds of Tibetans have died and thousands more (including Uighurs) have been arrested, never to be seen again, many of whom face torture and “extrajudicial executions” once within China’s prisons.

8. King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, Saudi Arabia

As leader of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz (pictured above with George W. Bush) is not only one of the world’s oldest reigning monarchs, but also one of the wealthiest, with a fortune estimated at $21 billion. His philanthropy is well known and he is seen by some as incorruptible.

But reports of the religious persecution of the Ahmadi (an Islamic religious movement founded in India) and accusations of human rights violations such as punishment amputations for criminals and substantial discrimination against women are well documented. Trade unions and political parties are prohibited, as are demonstrations, and dissenters can be imprisoned in solitary confinement without charge.

The internet is “comprehensively filtered” with blocks on hundreds of thousands of websites, such as those that discuss political, social or religious issues. No criticism of the government is tolerated.

7. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea

One of the smallest countries in continental Africa, Equatorial Guinea is also one of the richest. Following the discovery of large offshore oil reserves, the US has injected billions of dollars into the country, giving it the second highest income per head in the world. Not that any of the money reaches the population – 70% of whom exist under the United Nations Poverty Threshold of $2 per day.

A “great survivor among Africa’s leaders,” Teodoro Obiang has been described as making “Robert Mugabe seem stable and benign.” He is believed to be a cannibal (or at least he perpetuates this rumor himself), eating his opponents livers and testicles. He is a “bizarre and brutal dictator” who has placed his relatives in the government’s key jobs and won the last three presidential elections with over 97% of the vote. The country’s notorious Black Beach prison houses his opponents, and fictional coups are fabricated in order to justify Obiang’s foot soldiers cutting off ears and torturing citizens.

Despite these crimes, Equatorial Guinea’s oil allows the violent regime to remain in place. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice even welcomed Obiang to the US in 2004 and called him a “good friend.”

6. Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan

With an abysmal record of human rights abuses, stark lack of press freedom and an “institutionalized, systematic and rampant” use of torture in the judicial system (according to UN reports), Uzbekistan has one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Preserving many characteristics of its Soviet past, Karimov’s government maintains a tight control on the media, meaning criticism of those in power is strictly forbidden. Opposition groups have been outlawed (particularly Islamic ones), human rights activists have been thrown in prison and hundreds of protester killed during crackdowns.

Evidence of financial corruption was documented by Craig Murray, the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004. He also revealed rather grisly reports of people being boiled to death.

Despite having already enjoyed the maximum of two terms as leader, in 2007 Karimov won a third term. Critics have called the election a sham – unsurprising when his opponents were unknown candidates who did not even ask to be voted for and began their campaign speeches by complimenting Karimov.

5. Muammar al-Gaddafi, Libya

Colonel Gaddafi, the self-named “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” heads a “brutal dictatorship” which maintains an iron grip over many aspects of daily Libyan life. His regime dominates the press with censorship; possesses a Byzantine network of many thousands of informants and spies; publicly broadcasts the executions of dissidents; has established a variety of chemical weapons programs (even trying on several occasions to buy nuclear arms); has removed the studying of foreign languages from the school curriculum; imprisons anyone who is discovered talking to a foreign national about politics; oppresses political parties; sponsors international terrorism; assassinates anti-Gaddafi critics (providing bounties); and indulges in nepotism and the widespread embezzlement of state funds. The list seems endless.

In early 2011, large-scale political uprisings have taken place in Libya with the intention of deposing Gaddafi, and it was reported that the dictator had lost control of large swathes of the country. As of writing (mid-March 2011), the rebellion seems to have lost much of its momentum, and fears of a drawn-out conflict have arisen, as government force bombs and rebel-held settlements.

4. Than Shwe, Burma

Than Shwe’s Union of Myanmar is one of the world’s most repressive and abusive regimes. Forced labor, human trafficking, abuse of children, frequent rapes committed by the military and the suppression of any form of independent journalism mean it comes as no surprise that Shwe was ranked at number 4 on Parade Magazine’s 2009 “World’s Worst Dictators” list.

The kidnapping of children for use in the military is a common occurrence, with an estimated 70,000 of the country’s 350,000 to 400,000 soldiers being under the age of 18.

After working as a postman, Shwe enlisted in the Burmese army and steadily rose through the hierarchy, eventually becoming his country’s leader in 1992. His vast personal expenditure stands out starkly amid a country whose people endure an enforced poverty. Shwe even refused entry to foreign aid workers during the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

3. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe

Mugabe rose to power in 1980 and has dominated Zimbabwean politics ever since. Although making much of his devout Christianity, he has been widely condemned from both inside his nation and the international stage. Described as conducting a “reign of terror” and being an “extremely poor role model” for the African continent, whose “transgressions are unpardonable,” Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party have always been able to snuff out opposition through mass intimidation and the use of violence.

In a country of twelve million people, some six million are impoverished and rely upon food aid. Violent land seizures, persecution of homosexuality, massive rates of unemployment (approximately 70%) and the lack of fuel all mean a desperately poor quality of life for many of his people, and with three-digit inflation, the World Bank has described Zimbabwe’s economic status as “unprecedented for a country not at war.”

All the while, corrupt government officials are alleged to pocket much of the income from the country’s rich mineral deposits.

Mugabe rebuffs his critics by calling them “born again colonialists” and affirming his nationalist zeal with quotes such as this one from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph: “Hitler [had] only one objective: justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be a Hitler tenfold.”

2. Omar al-Bashir, Sudan

Al-Bashir’s crimes are considerable. In 1993 he disbanded the military junta that had brought him to dominance and installed himself as Sudan’s president. His government oversaw the end of the bloody Second Sudanese Civil War but then started a new conflict in the Darfur region in 2003, acting with “specific intent” to ethnically cleanse the non-Arabs.

The mass killings by the government-backed Janjaweed militia, as well as widespread rape and the expulsion of millions of indigenous tribal people from their traditional lands, have resulted in an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 deaths so far.

Aside from being responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of people, there is further evidence that the Sudanese president has indulged in embezzlement of government funds on a massive scale (perhaps as high as $9 billion).

1. Kim Jong-Il, North Korea

Thanks to Kim Jong-Il’s policy of ‘juche’ (self-reliance) North Korea is cut off from virtually all external trade, media and immigration. The entire country is swaddled in a clandestine shroud, hidden away from foreign eyes. North Korea’s human rights record is just as secretive, but some details of the nature of Kim Jong-Il’s infamous totalitarian dictatorship are known by the outside world. According to the UN’s Human Rights Resolution 2005/11, women are trafficked for prostitution or forced marriage; there are “ethnically motivated” mandatory abortions; torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishments; widespread malnourishment; public executions; the extensive use of forced labor in prison camps; and sanctions on citizens who have been repatriated from abroad, such as considering them traitors, interring, torturing or murdering them and their children.

The US Committee for Human Rights estimates that there are 150,000 North Koreans acting as forced labor in prison camps.

During the 1990s, an “immense famine” claimed between 900,000 and 3,500,000 people’s lives. Lack of arable land, major flooding and severe droughts all combined with the refusal of the government to accept vital trade and humanitarian aid to create a disaster on a massive scale.

Overseeing these atrocities is Kim Jong-Il. He is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, the Chairman of the National Defense Commission and the General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (the nation’s ruling party since 1949). Also know as the ‘Dear Leader’ or the ‘Supreme Leader,’ he is an effective total manipulator of his citizens: there are tightly controlled with severe restrictions on religion, travel and even opinions and thought. To prove this point, many North Koreans actually believe that Kim Jong-Il and his father Kim II-Sung created the earth and can control its weather.

Political rights and civil liberties are almost non-existent. The North Korean people are propagandized and repressed more than any other populace in the world – perhaps more than any other nation in history.

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