List of Top 10 Most Brutal Dictators in Modern History

The concept of dictatorship as well as the use of force and systemic persecution of political opponents to stay in power dates back to the ancient Roman civilization, however, it was the modern history dictators who made it virtually a synonym for gross human rights violations and brutality. Sadly, some of the most brutal dictators in modern history held power not so long ago.

Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

Adolf Hitler

This evil man who rose to power in the 1930s was responsible for the greatest ferocities in human history. He ordered systematic racially based murder of about 11 million of people of which 6 million were Jews, while his foreign policy provoked World War II which claimed 50 to 70 million lives. Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, to avoid being captured by the Soviet Red Army that was advancing in Berlin.

Joseph Stalin (1878 – 1953)

Joseph Stalin

The Georgian-born Soviet leader rose to power after Lenin’s death in 1924. The future ally of the United States and Britain against the Nazi Germany was a paranoid man who brutally suppressed his political enemies as well as suspected opponents. The number of casualties of the Stalinist regime vary but about 14 to 20 million of people are estimated to have died in the penalty labor camps known as the gulags or were executed during the Great Purge in the 1930s, while millions were deported and exiled.

Pol Pot (1925 – 1998)

The leader of the Khmer Rouge and dictator of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 was directly responsible for one of the severest genocides in modern history. During the four years he held power in Cambodia, about 1 million people died as a result of starvation, imprisonment, forced labor and murder. He was ousted in 1979 by the Vietnamese but together with his Red Khmer followers he continued to operate in the countryside from Thailand.

Idi Amin (1925 – 2003)

Idi Amin

The 3rd President of Uganda was responsible for about 250,000 deaths which were a result of his regime of terror marked by torture, extra-judicial executions, corruption and ethnic persecution. He held power from 1972 to 1979 when he fled the country due to the defeat against Tanzania which he attacked one year earlier. He found refuge in Libya and then in Saudi Arabia where he died in 2003.

Augusto Pinochet (1915 – 2006)

Augusto Pinochet

Military dictator who came to power in a coup d’etat in 1973 held power in Chile for nearly 20 years during which he brutally suppressed his opponents. More than 100,000 people were arrested only during the first three years. Pinochet stepped down as President of Chile in 1990 after the Chileans voted against continuity of his presidency on a plebiscite. In the early 2000s, he was trialled for violations of human rights but the court has ruled that he is mentally unfit for the trial.

Francois Duvalier (1907 – 1971)

Francois Duvalier

The Haitian dictator, also known as Papa Doc governed the poorest country in the Americas from 1957 to his death in 1971. During his reign of terror, about 30,000 Haitians are estimated to have been assassinated, while thousands – mostly intelligence fled the country. Many people consider him responsible for the current situation in Haiti. He was succeeded by his son Jean-Claude Duvalier who continued the reign of terror until 1986 when he went into a self-imposed exile.

Francisco Franco (1892 – 1975)

Francisco Franco

The Spanish dictator held power from 1939 when he emerged as the winner of the Spanish Civil War until his death in 1975. His regime was marked by severe repression and systematic suppression of dissidents who were either sent to concentration camps, sentenced to prison which often includes forced labor or executed. Francoist regime became more liberal in the 1960s and 1970s but Spain became a democratic country only after Franco’s death.

Saddam Hussein (1937 – 2006)

Saddam Hussein

The Iraqi dictator who came to power in 1979 is estimated to be responsible for about 500,000 to 1 million deaths of which the Kurds account for about 70,000 to 300,000. Hussein was ousted after the invasion of the US and UK led coalition in 2003. In 2006, he was found guilty for 148 Shi’ite deaths in the early 1980 and sentenced to death. He was executed by hanging on December 30, 2006.

Charles Taylor (1948 - )

The former President of Liberia who was elected in 1997 (allegedly by terrorizing the population) has been connected with gross human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against the humanity in the civil war in the neighboring Sierra Leone as well as at home during the Second Liberian Civil War that lasted from 1999 to 2003. He is currently being trialled for his involvement in the Sierra Leone civil war at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Mengistu Haile Mariam (1937 - )

The Ethiopian dictator who played the key role in the overthrow of the monarchy came to power with a Communist military junta known as the Derg in 1974. In the late 1970s, he launched a violent campaign known as the Ethiopian Red Terror during which about 500,000 people were killed. In 1991, Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe. He was found guilty for genocide in absentia in 2006. Today he lives in Zimbabwe.

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