In a democracy, citizens choose their own leaders and political power is derived from winning elections. People are left to largely do as they wish. But in a dictatorship, one man takes control of the entire country and imposes his will on the citizens. Despite the brutality of history’s worst dictators, in the 21st century dictatorships are on the march again. Perhaps that means it is time to revisit the worst dictators that the modern world has ever seen. Here are the 14 deadliest regimes.

14. Muhammad Soharto

Image: Time

Dictator Muhammad Soeharto killed half a million people between 1965 and 1966 following a failed coup attempt. He instituted a program of torture and massacred anyone suspected of being a communist. Soeharto also committed war crimes in East Timor, Papua, Aceh and the Moluccan islands.

13. Saddam Hussein

Image: Vanity Fair

Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq as a brutal tyrant. He used chemical weapons on his own people, instituted a secret police, deported and murdered dissidents and attacked Iraq’s neighbors. He killed tens of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq. By the end of Hussein’s reign, the country had devolved from an oil-rich country into a police state ruled by Hussein and his two barbarous sons, Uday and Kusay. His people had no right to travel overseas and he controlled all information, stopping any information, which clashed, with his propaganda.

12. Robert Mugabe

Image: Daily Maverick

Robert Mugabe was dictator of Zimbabwe for four decades, during which the citizens faced brutal oppression at his direction. Thousands of people were massacred for not voting for Mugabe and other perceived slights. Mugabe displaced 3.1 million people due to his land reform program. He finally stepped down in 2017 and is still alive.

11. Adolf Hitler

Image: Hitler

Hitler brought the world to its knees, wreaking death and destruction that had not been seen since ancient times. Hitler revoked Jewish citizenship and set about systematically murdering Europe’s Jews. He killed the disabled and imprisoned Roma and minorities. Between 15 and 20 million people were imprisoned during World War II. Total deaths from the WWII era are between 50 and 80 million. The War didn’t just bring military deaths; it brought death and starvation to millions of civilians.

10. Josef Stalin

Although Stalin fought against Hitler during World War II, his own record as dictator of the Soviet Union is horrendous. He killed and imprisoned tens of millions of people. Many people in the Soviet Union starved to death because of his policies. He instituted a regime of total political repression, with anyone considered an enemy was killed without trial and thrown into mass graves. He is believed to have murdered as many as 20 million people.

9. Kim Il-Sung

Image: Human Rights Watch

North Korea became a paranoid dictatorship under the rule of the Sung family after World War II. Kim oversaw horrific human rights abuses, including sending citizens to gulags and “disappearing” (AKA kidnapping) thousands of people. He was an expert in gaslighting and brainwashing the population, creating the impression that he was a literal god. Kim Il-Sung passed down his brutality to his son and grandson, who turned North Korea into a totally closed state where dissent is forbidden and the population have little knowledge of the outside world.

8. Mao Zedong

Image: Hollywood Reporter

Mao Zedong is founder of the People’s Republic of China. He was a communist dictator who followed Stalin’s program of killing anyone who dissented from his rule. Mao initiated a land reform program that killed millions of landlords. In 1958, Mao’s  “Great Leap Forward” was designed to make communism more Chinese. It resulted in the world’s deadliest famine, with 45 million people starving to death. The Cultural Revolution of 1966 was a purge of intellectuals and dissidents, leading to 1.5 million deaths. Mao was extraordinarily cruel.

7. Pol Pot

Image: Medium

The ruthless dictator Pol Pot led Cambodia during the 1970’s, when his regime started a genocide that killed 2.5 million people. This was an astonishing 25% of the country’s entire population. Pol Pot forced people to work on farms, known as the killing fields. Pol Pot abolished religion, private property and money. Pol Pot was able to control the population with arbitrary executions and forced labor.

6. Enver Hoxa

Image: YouTube

Enver Hoxa was a ruthless dictator who brought communism to Albania. After fighting with China and the Soviet Union, Hoxa closed the borders to create a European nation that resembled North Korea. Over four decades, Hoxa banned religion, severed normal relations with nearly every country, carried out brutal purges of his inner circle and created a cult of personality that effectively wiped out dissent. Around 200,000 people were imprisoned during Hoxa’s rule in a country with a population of only 3 million.

5. Idi Amin

Image: Famous Biographies

When Idi Amin declared himself president of Uganda, he launched an eight-year campaign to kill and expel anyone who opposed his rule. Indians and Pakistanis were expelled from the country. Amin massacred an estimated 300,000 of his fellow citizens.

3. King Leopold II

Image: Antibes

Belgium’s King Leopold often escapes these lists, but he was just as brutal as Hitler or Stalin. As leader of 19th century Belgium, he invaded what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo and committed genocide. When Leopold invaded the Congo, he made alliances with slave traders and forced thousands of Congolese into forced labor. Leopold turned the entire country into his personal fiefdom, ordering governors to extract all the gold, diamonds, lumber, ivory and other natural resources they could find. As many as ten million people were killed in this colonialist regime, accounting for half of the Congo’s population.

2. Francisco Franco

Image: Irish Times

Francisco Franco became a dictator after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), which claimed over a half a million people. One-party rule in Spain meant that thousands of people were sent to prison camps, executed, and tortured.

1. Vladimir Lenin

Image: Business Insider

During the period of the Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin emerged as a ruthless dictator. After an assassination attempt, Lenin initiated the Red Terror, a program of torture and murder that was used to apprehend anyone suspected of counter-revolutionary activities. Since there were no trials, it is hard to get an accurate estimate of the number of people killed, but Lenin gave the order to butcher 50,000 people in the Crimea alone. Stalin was the first ruler of the Soviet Union and he established a totalitarian state that would massacre, imprison and starve tens of millions of people in the 20th century.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Advertising

Analytics

Other