Sunday, April 23, 2006

Forget President Bush's "axis of evil." Who are the overlooked autocrats we should be paying attention to but aren't? Outlook asked people in the know for their nominations:

Islam Karimov

President, Uzbekistan

Karimov's acts of barbarism in the name of security are infamous. By some accounts, he has had his victims boiled alive and had others tortured with beatings, electric shock, asphyxiation, rape and burns. Having come to power as a Communist Party official in the former Soviet Union, he has ruled since the collapse of the USSR through a series of suspect elections. He won the presidency with 86 percent of the vote in 1991 and extended his mandate in 2000 with 91.9 percent of the vote.

-- Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee

King Gyanendra


Autocratic, absolutist and impermeable to advice, King Gyanendra has shown an unerring capacity to do exactly the wrong thing for his country and for the survival of his own institution: He has fueled Nepal's increasingly ugly conflict with his refusal to compromise with the democratic parties, his crackdown on dissent and his insistence on a military solution for the Maoist insurgency. After days of escalating street protests, he announced plans late Friday to hand power to a new prime minister.

-- Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group

Teodoro Obiang Nguema

President, Equatorial Guinea

Obiang came to power in 1979 in a violent coup d'état and has since brooked no opposition to his dictatorial rule. Until 1996, when oil was discovered, Equatorial Guinea was desperately poor, subsisting largely on cocoa exports and foreign aid. Since then, Obiang has been stealing most of the oil profits. A 2004 Senate report says that Obiang and his cronies siphoned off tens of millions of dollars. Oil revenues are substantial, so the country's per capita income is among the highest in Africa--yet most people remain in abject poverty.

-- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Meles Zenawi

Prime Minister, Ethiopia

Zenawi was widely criticized for responding to accusations of fraud in May 2005 parliamentary elections by gunning down scores of demonstrators and putting prominent opposition politicians on trial for genocide and treason. But in smaller towns and villages throughout Ethiopia, his systemic repression escapes meaningful scrutiny. In the vast Oromia region, thousands of alleged government critics have been harassed, imprisoned, tortured and killed in the past decade. Millions have been intimidated into silence.

-- Kenneth Roth, Director, Human Rights Watch

Saparmurad Niyazov

President, Turkmenistan

Also known as "Turkmenbashi," Niyazov has been his country's absolute ruler for the past 20 years. The worst features of the Soviet totalitarian system are preserved in Turkmenistan: a gulag of penal colonies; the confinement of dissenters in psychiatric hospitals; show trials; and refusal to permit dissenters to leave the country. Within the country, Niyazov is hailed as a national prophet, and his book, "The Ruhnama," is treated as a sacred text. Though Turkmenistan derives vast revenue from its natural gas reserves, its population of 5 to 6 million is impoverished, education is severely restricted and even reports on infectious diseases are prohibited.

-- Aryeh Neier, President, Open Society Institute

Isaias Afwerki

President, Eritrea

One of Africa's most repressive leaders, President Isaias tolerates few checks on his hold on power. National elections have not been held since independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The government prohibits the existence of any opposition party, strictly controls the media and forbids independent media from publishing or broadcasting. Torture, including bondage, heat exposure and beatings, has been used on national service evaders, government critics and members of minority religious groups. Numerous detainees have been required to sign statements repudiating their faith.

-- Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Chairman, House International Relations subcommittee on Africa, global human rights and international operations.

Alexander Lukashenko

President, Belarus

Lukashenko is rightly known as "Europe's last dictator." Some of his edicts are laughable -- such as nationalistically ripping down billboards depicting fashion models who were not Belarusan. But most are deadly serious -- such as closing down the best private university in the region, getting rid of political opposition candidates and journalists and, just last month, rounding up citizens who gathered peacefully to protest a sham election. After watching the color revolutions of Ukraine and Georgia, Lukashenko seems willing to stop at nothing to prevent democracy in Belarus.

-- Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Joseph Kony

Leader, Lord's Resistance Army, Uganda

For nearly 20 years, the 45-year-old Kony has led a guerrilla paramilitary group known as the Lord's Resistance Army, claiming to cut off the lips and ears of those who refuse to acknowledge him as their divine leader. Kony's principal targets are civilian villages, where his army hacks to death the adults and abducts the children. Most LRA captives are between the ages of 11 and 16. Young males are trained for combat, and girls are used as sex slaves and beasts of burden. Kony's rituals include elements of Christianity, Islam and black magic. Some 200,000 people have died.

-- Nina Shea, Director, Freedom House's Center For Religious Freedom

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