What Rights Do Citizens Have in a Dictatorship?

by Rosanne Tomyn, studioD
After WWII, and the discovery of the human rights violations committed by Adolf Hitler, the United Nations established the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

After WWII, and the discovery of the human rights violations committed by Adolf Hitler, the United Nations established the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Citizens in a dictatorship have very few rights. Though some dictators, eager to whitewash their reputations, have worked to gain international recognition for certain benefits in their countries, these chronic rights abusers pick and choose which of the rights listed on The Universal Declarations of Human Rights to highlight and which to ignore. Having the power to control all areas of life in their own countries, dictators routinely disregard the plight of their own people as well as the concerns of the international community. For citizens living under a dictator, life is controlled and access to information and the outside world is limited.

No Right to Food

The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes the basic human needs that should be guaranteed to all people -- one of which is food. Though the list is comprehensive, no fundamental human rights are guaranteed in dictator states. Dictatorships do not guarantee citizens food or shelter. Under Joseph Stalin, Russians experienced extreme food shortages -- as did Germans under Adolf Hitler. Ruled by a family line of dictators since WWII, North Koreans have faced food shortages as well. Aid agencies estimate that as many as 2 million North Koreans have died as a result of food shortages since the 1990s.

No Freedom of Speech

Citizens living under a dictatorship are subject to strict systems of regulation against public speech, organization and assembly. Dictators hold exclusive power over the state and its citizens -- and those citizens are expected to act accordingly. Dictators like Hitler of Germany and Stalin of Russia were unyielding in their persecution and even tortured those who openly opposed their rule.

No Choice in Religious Beliefs

Dictators often decide what religions are acceptable. While some dictators establish a state religion to be followed by all, others label certain theologies illegal. Under Julius Caesar, early Christians in Rome were martyred for their failure to make sacrifices to the Roman gods -- and their refusal to say "Caesar is Lord." Years later, Roman Emperor Nero ordered savage, empire-wide killings of Christians. In contemporary Vietnam, a communist dictatorship, the country's leadership is intolerant of many religions -- most notably Buddhist and Protestant groups. The continued persecution and imprisonment of Buddhist monks has resulted in lengthy prison sentences and in 2003, Vietnam's Central Committee adopted a resolution to "stamp out" religious freedom advocates.

Lack of Due Process

Dictators determine the legal and legislative processes of their countries. By dismantling existing court systems, or failing to establish new ones, dictators maintain all lawmaking power. With a lack of impartial courts, citizens are not protected by a system of due process or regulated punishment. Abuse of detainees, including torture and even murder, are common in dictatorial regimes.

About the Author

Based in the Pacific Northwest and educated at the University of Washington, Rosanne Tomyn has been writing historical, cultural and political articles since 2005. Tomyn was awarded the International Labor Communicators Award for Best Profile and Best Labor History Story in 2011.

Photo Credits

  • Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images