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Saudi Arabia
Congo, Democratic Republic of
Human Rights

[image, unknown] New Internationalist Issue 275

The material that follows has been provided by New Internationalist

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The world's nations are significantly freer from dictatorship than they were ten years ago. But this encouraging trend masks the existence of some truly nasty regimes which have erected a wall of repression around a third of the world's people.


Percentage of the world's population living under multi-party, one-party or military systems.

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The improvement is genuine but the figure for multi-party democracy should still be treated with caution since it includes countries like Mexico and Russia where the democratic practice is far short of ideal.
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There is another kind of human-rights crime - that which denies human beings their basic needs for food, health, shelter and education. Some of the blame for this attaches to individual Majority World governments for failing to make human development a priority. But rich countries' insistence on global economic priorities that grind down the poorest must also bear their share of the blame.

The child-mortality rate is a good index of a country's human-development position since children are the most vulnerable when times are hard.

[image, unknown] The highest child-mortality rate in the world is in Niger, which due to a calamitous decline in the last five years now has exactly the same child death rate as it did in 1960 (see above).

[image, unknown] The biggest improvement in child-mortality rate over the same five-year period cam in Namibia, newly liberated from South African rule and able to prioritize the basic needs of its citizens for the first time (see above).

[image, unknown] Finland now has the lowest child-death rate in the world - just five per thousand live births.

[image, unknown] Another good index of progress in meeting basic needs is the Human Development Index (HDI) compiled by the UN Development Programme. The chart below shows that the biggest decline in HDI rating over the last five years has come in Bulgaria, suffering as it replaces state control with the free market.

[image, unknown] The biggest improvement in the last five years has surprisingly come in Algeria, despite the war between the repressive government and the fundamentalist FIS.

[image, unknown] In both Bulgaria and Algeria the change has arisen due to shifts in gross national product rather than the education or health components of the Index.

[image, unknown] Again Niger has the lowest HDI in the world while a rich country, Canada, has the highest.


These ten regimes still rule over some 1,745 million people - 31 per cent of the world's population.

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Ruler: State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), chaired by General Than Shwe

Prisoners: At least 1,000 political prisoners are held in inhuman conditions. Thousands of people from ethnic minorities have been seized by the military and forced to work as porters or on construction projects.

Executions: No legal executions were reported in 1994, though there were numerous extrajudicial executions of ethnic-minority villagers by the Army.

Opposition: None is permitted. 1990 election winner Aung San Suu Kyi is no longer under house arrest but thousands of less prominent activists struggle under appalling conditions.

NI Assessment: A police state with intense surveillance and widespread fear. The SLORC is determined to retain power and is impervious to international disapproval. Pariahs they may be but Western companies still do a roaring trade with them.

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Ruler: Hafez al-Assad

Prisoners: The thousands of political prisoners include Lebanese and Palestinians. Torture of political detainees is widespread, the most common methods being falaqa (beatings on the soles of the feet) and dullab (where the victim is suspended from a tyre and beaten).

Executions: Two people were executed in 1994.

Opposition: None is permitted. The Party for Communist Action, the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Nasserist Democratic Popular Organization have all tried to organize and been crushed.

NI Assessment: Once damned as an 'exporter of terrorism' worse than his neighbour Saddam Hussein, Assad now has the fawning attention of a West desperate for him to recognize Israel. It shows a Western policy influenced more by geopolitics than by concern for human rights and democracy.

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Ruler: General Sani Abacha

Prisoners: There are 80 prisoners of conscience who are routinely beaten and held incommunicado in harsh conditions.

Executions: At least 100 people were executed in 1994, usually by firing squad in front of large crowds. Dozens of pro-democracy demonstrators were also killed by police. Around 700 Ogoni people have been extrajudicially executed in recent years.

Opposition: None is permitted. Chief Moshood Abiola, probable winner of the aborted 1994 election, has been in prison for two years. Ken Saro-Wiwa, celebrated writer and Ogoni leader was executed in November. Nevertheless, widespread resistance continues.

NI Assessment: Nigerian democracy has a shabby record of corruption. But General Abacha's regime is so repressive that even previous attempts at democracy are taking on a rosy retrospective glow. This is one case where concerted international action could make a real difference.

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Ruler: General Suharto

Prisoners: At least 350, many of them prisoners of conscience. Beatings and electric shocks are the most common torture methods.

Executions: No legal executions in 1994, though there were many extrajudicial executions, especially of East Timorese and Acehnese people. Sixty alleged criminals were killed while in police custody.

Opposition: Despite claims of a new 'political openness' the Government has intensified repression of both critics and human-rights activists. Opposition is more organized in the independence-seeking regions of Aceh, East Timor and West Papua - but so is the military's response.

NI Assessment: Suharto came to power 30 years ago on a tide of bloodshed and his regime has retained its ruthlessness. But the country's huge potential market lends it respectability in Western eyes.

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Ruler: President Mobutu Sese Seko.

Prisoners: There are hundreds of prisoners of conscience. Torture and beatings are common.

Executions: There were no legal executions in 1994, though dozens of civilians were murdered by security forces.

Opposition: Opposition parties are allowed but their members are subject to arrest, physical attack or 'disappearance'. Journalists critical of Mobutu may be detained or even 'disappear'.

NI Assessment: Still grimly hanging on to power and ill-gotten riches, Mobutu has been an embarrassment to Africans for nearly three decades. Concerted Western pressure could pay dividends here.

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Ruler: Now 91, Deng Xiaoping is unable to speak and possibly to understand yet is still 'consulted'. President Jiang Zemin has taken all his posts and hopes for a smooth dictatorial transition.

Prisoners: Tens of thousands of political prisoners. Routine torture methods include beatings, electric shocks, shackles, sleep deprivation and exposure to extremes of cold and heat.

Executions: At least 1,791 in 1994 but the true figure was probably much higher.

Opposition: None is permitted. Demonstrators are detained without trial. New laws in 1994 clamped down even harder on freedom of expression and association.

NI Assessment: China now has the worst of both worlds: Mao-style political repression without a trace of Mao's egalitarianism; an increasingly rampant free market with no chance to protest. The West has swallowed its objections rather than forgo the delights of trade with the world's second largest economy.

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Ruler: President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

Prisoners: Thousands of political prisoners. Torture methods include beatings on the soles of the feet and suspending people by the wrists or ankles. Courts routinely sentence people to amputation. Scores of women are flogged each year for violating the dress code.

Executions: At least 139 in 1994, some hanged in public. But Amnesty International believes the real number is considerably higher. Religious-minority leaders and even Iranians in exile are threatened with extrajudicial execution.

Opposition: None is permitted. Critics face detention without trial or even the death penalty. The People's Mojahedin Organization offers armed resistance, as do Kurdish and Baluchi guerrillas.

NI Assessment: Rafsanjani's much-touted 'moderation' is mythical. In practice his regime is little less fearsome than that of his predecessor Khomeini.

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Ruler: General Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir

Prisoners: Hundreds of political opponents have been detained without charge. Routine torture methods include beatings and prolonged exposure to the sun. The courts regularly sentence people to be flogged.

Executions: There were no lawful executions in 1994, though hundreds of civilians were murdered by security forces.

Opposition: All independent political activity is suppressed and a state of emergency in force. In southern Sudan the Government is at war with two factions of the Sudan People's Liberation Army.

NI Assessment: Bashir competes with Abacha of Nigeria for the unenviable title of Africa's worst tyrant.

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Ruler: Saddam Hussein

Prisoners: Tens of thousands of political prisoners. Torture is widespread. Amputation became a widely used legal punishment for criminals in 1994: the right hand for a first offence, the left foot or the ears for a second.

Executions: The exact number of legal executions in 1994 is unknown but they were numerous. The death penalty has been extended to cover 18 new offences. Security forces have murdered many unarmed civilians, especially Marsh Arabs in the south.

Opposition: None is permitted. Kurdish armed resistance continues in the north, though Kurdish forces are fragmented and at odds with each other.

NI Assessment: The recent 'referendum' shows Saddam's grip on power to be as tight as ever. The West's inability to unseat him, first by military blitzkrieg and then by crippling sanctions shows that even concerted international action against human-rights abusers does not always pay off.

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Ruler: King Fahd bin 'Abdul-'Aziz

Prisoners: Hundreds of Islamist opponents are detained and held without charge for long periods. Prisoners and detainees are routinely beaten and held incommunicado in harsh conditions. Amputation is commonly imposed by the courts.

Executions: At least 53 people were executed in 1994, all by public

Opposition: Neither religious nor political opposition is permitted. The main religious opposition comes from Sunni Islamists; political resistance comes from the banned Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights, whose leaders are now exiled in Britain.

NI Assessment: Western criticism of Saudi Arabia's archaic absolute monarchy and its dreadful human-rights record has been notable by its absence - it not only has oil but is seen as a key conservative ally in the Middle East. The silence must end. Money talks - but it should not be allowed to swear.

1 World Human Rights Guide, Charles Humana (Pan 1987).
2 The NI's own estimate.
3 The information in this section has been compiled with help from from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
4 State of the World's Children Report 1991-95, UNICEF.
5 Human Development Report 1991-95, UNDP.

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996

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