The desperation of the despots

Steve Chapman:
We all have tasks we try to get done before the end of the year, and Kim Jong Un's is amping up the crazy. Last December, the North Korean despot approved the execution of his uncle for allegedly plotting against him. This December, his agents hacked Sony Pictures computers over a comedy depicting his assassination.

It's enough to make you forget what he does to his real enemies: the people of North Korea. In February, a United Nations task force found his "crimes against humanity" to be "without any parallel in the contemporary world."

But he did have serious rivals for that honor in 2014. One of them is the self-proclaimed Islamic State, a radical organization (also known as ISIL and ISIS) that proclaimed a caliphate in territory spanning large swaths of Syria and Iraq. Beheading American journalists was only its most visible atrocity. "The array of violations and abuses perpetrated by ISIL and associated armed groups is staggering," said Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

The group managed the nearly impossible feat of worsening the human rights environment in Syria. During the civil war, said Human Rights Watch, dictator Bashar Assad has subjected "tens of thousands of people to arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment, and torture." He also used poison gas against rebels in 2013 and apparently again this year.

Autocracy showed staying power in conspicuous places. Russia's Vladimir Putin hosted the Winter Olympics, seized Crimea from Ukraine and launched a crackdown on dissent unparalleled in his country since Soviet days.

The World Internet Conference somehow chose to convene in China, whose government blocks thousands of websites. In response to protests in Hong Kong, Beijing set a record for the number of social media posts it deleted.

Religious extremism fared well in many places. In Nigeria, the Islamist group Boko Haram —whose name means "Western education is sinful" — kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls, who have not yet been recovered.

Pakistan's Taliban massacred 145 people, including 132 children, at a school in Peshawar, the country's worst terrorist attack. Jihadi militias in Libya captured Tripoli, forcing the elected Parliament to flee the capital.
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There is more.

Sometimes we forget just how weak and frightened the despots are, but when they are in that mode it is even more frightening for the people they attempt to control.

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