The more dictators change, the more they stay the same (Or, genocide over breakfast)

Originally posted at Stop Genocide.

Every year, Parade Magazine releases a list of the “worlds worst dictators”.  Parade usually covers celebrity, health, and human interest type stories that are slightly more pleasant to read over your Sunday waffles.  Yet, once a year, they devote their cover and a “top ten list” inside to some of the worst people to ever be called “head of state”.  Three of the individuals run countries that are marked as “red alert” on the Genocide Prevention Project’s list of Mass Atrocity Crimes Watch List.

This year, Robert Mugabe tops the list.  (He’s moving up in the world – last year he was at a lowly number 6). Regular readers of this blog will be quite familiar with what Mugabe’s done to deserve this honor.  But, helpfully, Parade highlights a “U.S. link” for each of these dictatorial super-stars.  For Mugabe, despite our government’s heighten rhetoric,

imports from Zimbabwe (primarily nickel and ferrochromium, both used in stainless steel) rose in 2008.

Demoted from #1, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the first sitting head of state the International Criminal Court has ordered arrested, is now the proud holder of the “World’s Worst Dictators” silver medal.

Again, the U.S. link is two-fold:

Both former President Bush and President Obama have spoken out strongly against Bashir’s actions. Although we’ve imposed trade sanctions against Sudan, the U.S. still supplies the country with substantial amounts of sorghum and other food products. The U.S. also purchases from Sudan millions of dollars worth of gum Arabic, used in soft drinks, candy, and shoe polish. In 2008, U.S. trade with Sudan actually increased to $148 million.

gum arabic

Gum Arabic – part of this balanced breakfast?

Number four on Parade’s list is Than Shwe of Myanmar.  Interestingly, like for Kim Jong-Il (North Korea) and Isayas Afewerki (Eritrea), the only U.S. link mentioned is political pressure:

The U.S. has condemned the military regime for 21 years and called for the release from house arrest of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

If only we could give up our sodas and candy to increase pressure on and deny resources to the Sudanese government.  Kudos to Parade Magazine for reminding us that our every day purchases and actions help prop up some of the world’s worst dictators.


And 2 years ago… “The World’s Worst Dictators and Me” on From Memory to Action, the unofficial blog of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Student Board on Genocide Prevention.

Of course, despite the title to this post I am not one of the world’s worst dictators – although I would enjoy a larger-than-life rotating gold statue of myself in my hometown. What I want to talk about here, in my first post, is Parade Magazine’s annual list of the world’s 20 worst dictators, released last weekend.

This list has a number of implications in the world of genocide studies, especially in activism and genocide prevention. Topping the list for the 3rd year in a row is Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan. According to Parade,

“Omar al-Bashir retains his position as the worst dictator because of his ongoing deadly human-rights abuses in the Darfur region of Sudan. Over the last four years, at least 200,000 people there have been killed by pro-Bashir forces. Nationwide, 5.3 million have been driven from their homes, and more than 700,000 have fled the country. But at the UN last September, Bashir blamed international aid groups for exaggerating the problems as a ploy to raise money for their organizations. And in November, he argued that war-related deaths in Darfur were less than 9,000. Despite agreeing to a 60-day ceasefire last month, he has been accused by his people of ordering troops to continue their attacks.”

In 2005 when Parade first named Al-Bashir the #1 worst dictator I remember feeling so pleased that they actually recognized how awful he was, and the impunity with which he was killing his own people. However, I’m sure it was quite nearly a tie between him and Kim Jong Ill, #2 that year, it’s just that al-Bashir tried a little harder to be an incredibly brutal ideologue.

Even beyond al-Bashir this year’s list of the world’s worst dictators is of interest to the genocide-prevention community. Number 3, Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, is the man behind “all decisions regarding Iran’s relations, its nuclear program and domestic freedoms” according to Parade. That presumably includes President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threats of genocide against Jews, Iran’s fueling of the ethnic civil war in Iraq and the Holocaust cartoon conference last year.

Parade’s commentary on dictator #4, China’s Hu Jintao, focuses on the human rights situation within China. Equally important, however, is China’s repeated involvement in ethnic conflicts around the globe – especially Darfur – to undermine human rights and reinforce the power of brutal regimes. This policy is in effect, many believe, so that China can have exclusive economic relations with these countries because the United States and other “Western” powers won’t deal with them. And yet, we’ll all watch the ’08 Olympics there… reminders of the ’36 Olympics, anyone? At least we have Olympian Joey Cheek on our side – too bad he’s a skater and so couldn’t boycott Beijing.

The final dictator I’ll discuss today squeezed in at #20, Vladimir Putin, his first year on the list (I guess with Saparmurad Niyazov gone and Fidel Castro rendered virtually powerless, there’s more room this year). Parade does not mention the situation in Chechnya in it’s profile of Putin, probably because there’ve been plenty of news-making human rights abuses in Russia beyond Chechnya in the past 12 months. Chechnya, one of the many regions that make-up the North Caucuses, remains an area of “Genocide Alert” for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Committee on Conscience due to the “Past persecution of Chechens as a people, The demonization of Chechens as a group within Russian society and The level of violence directed against Chechen civilians by Russian forces”.

It is up to the world community to continue to monitor the situation in Chechnya so that Putin does not rise to replace al-Bashir as a genocidal world’s worst dictator.

Cartoon from Cagle Cartoons, photo of gum arabic from


About Martha Heinemann Bixby

Advocacy. Politics. Life. Martha Heinemann Bixby.
This entry was posted in Advocacy, International and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The more dictators change, the more they stay the same (Or, genocide over breakfast)

  1. Hi from Ireland, good post, deserves a Digg.

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