What rights do citizens have in a dictatorship?

Written by ollie wright
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What rights do citizens have in a dictatorship?
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was denouced as a "dictator" by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 (Chris McGrath/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

In a democracy, a country is run on the people's behalf by an elected government. In a dictatorship, the country is run in the interests of the people who run the country, without any opportunity for the people to effect change. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, dictators "usually resort to force or fraud to gain despotic political power, which they maintain through the use of intimidation [and] terror." The promulgation of basic human rights is, therefore, not usually featured on a dictator's list of domestic priorities.

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Definition of a Dictatorship

In ancient Rome, the concept of dictatorship referred to a form of absolute rule handed to an individual temporarily in a time of crisis. However, in the modern era, dictatorship instead refers to a government dominated by one individual to the extent that any genuine opposition is impossible. Arguably the most infamous dictator of the 20th century was Adolf Hitler, whose dictatorial rule in 1930s Germany led to World War II.

The Right to Vote

When a dictator assumes total control of a country, the rights of that country's citizens are necessarily limited. The right to participate in free elections is denied to the people, as reportedly occurred in Zimbabwe in 2008 under the rule of President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe won the election by a landslide, after his main opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, withdrew from the process, protesting against the intimidation and violence perpetrated against his political supporters. Tsvangirai stated that "the outcome is determined by ... Mugabe himself."

Freedom of Expression and Political Prisoners

In a dictatorship, freedom of expression has to be squashed in order to prevent the dissemination of dissident views. In North Korea, where the presidency has been "eternally" reserved for the deceased Kim Il-sung and power is held by his son, Kim Jong-Il, a "totalitarian" state has incarcerated an estimated 200,000 political prisoners. Reporters Without Borders are campaigning for a free and independent press in North Korea, but at present, radio and TV stations are run by the government and broadcast heavily-censored news, while the act of listening to foreign or unofficial media reports is a punishable offence.

The Right to Open Justice

According to human rights charity Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia has cracked down heavily on its inhabitants' rights to justice in recent years. Some Saudis have been "arrested and detained in virtual secrecy, whilst others have been killed in uncertain circumstances." Trials are conducted in secret and can lead to the summary imposition of the death penalty. This contradicts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines the right to a public trial in law.

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