Representative government has been a luxury that relatively few people have enjoyed throughout human history.
And while the vast majority of dictators fall short of Hitler or Stalin-like levels of cruelty, history is rife with oppressors, war criminals, sadists, sociopaths, and morally complacent individuals who ended up as unelected heads of government — to the tragic detriment of the people and societies they ruled over.
Scroll through the gallery below to learn more about 22 brutal dictators that you may not of heard of:
After that war concluded, Brazil, Argentina, and the winning faction in Uruguay secretly agreed to a plan in which they would annex half of Paraguay's territory.
Lopez rejected the peace terms offered by the "triple alliance," incurring a full-on invasion.
What followed was a devastating conflict in which an overmatched Lopez conscripted child soldiers, executed hundreds of his deputies (including his own brother), incurred steep territorial losses, and triggered an eight-year Argentine military occupation.
Hungarian leader Miklós Horthy had been an ally of Nazi Germany, collaborating with Adolf Hitler's regime in exchange for assistance in restoring Hungarian control over lands the country had lost as a result of World War I.
Horthy began attempting to chart an independent path from the Nazis as the German war effort flagged in 1944 and largely refused to deport the country's Jews — triggering a Nazi invasion and Döme Sztójay's installation as the country's puppet leader even while Horthy officially remained in power.
Sztójay, who had been Hungary's ambassador to Nazi Germany for the decade leading up to World War II, was captured by American troops after the war and executed in Hungary in 1946.
(Photo via Wikipedia)
Ante Pavelić (1941-1945)
Ante Pavelić started out as a politician who was opposed to the centralization of what later became officially known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
After Yugoslavia's king declared himself dictator in 1929, Pavelić fled the country in order to organize an ultra-nationalist movement called Ustaše.
The Ustaše was dedicated to creating an independent Croatia, and sometimes resorted to terrorism. Ultimately, the group assassinated King Alexander in 1934.
After Axis forces took over Yugoslavia in the 1941, Pavelić took control as the head of the Independent State of Croatia (or NDH).
The country was nominally ruled by the Ustaše, but was essentially a puppet state of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Under Pavelić's leadership, the regime persecuted Orthodox Serbs, Jews, and Romani living in the NDH.
After Germany was defeated in 1945, Pavelić went into hiding, and eventually escaped to Argentina. He died in Spain in 1959.
(Photo by ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Khorloogiin Choibalsan (Mongolia, 1930s-1952)
After several meetings with Stalin, Choibalsan adopted the Soviet leader's policies and methods and applied them to Mongolia.
He created a dictatorial system, suppressing the opposition and killing tens of thousands of people.
Later in the 1930s, he "began to arrest and kill leading workers in the party, government, and various social organizations in addition to army officers, intellectuals, and other faithful workers," according to a report published in 1968 cited in the Historical Dictionary of Mongolia.
In late 1951, Choibalsan went to Moscow in order to receive treatment for kidney cancer. He died the following year.
(Photo via Wikipedia)
Enver Hoxha (Albania, 1944-1985)
Albania's communist dictator feuded with both the Soviet Union and China before promoting a ruinous policy of national self-reliance that turned his country into a Balkan version of modern-day North Korea.
One of the most controversial figures in post-colonial African history, Ian Smith, a decorated fighter pilot during World War II, led the secession of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from the British empire in 1965.
His aim was to preserve white rule in an overwhelmingly black colony.
Although whites were less than 4% of Rhodesia's population, Smith's government survived nearly 15 years of international isolation and civil war.
He agreed to a power-sharing accord that elevated Robert Mugabe to prime minister in 1980.
Although sometimes lauded for his willingness to surrender power — something that meant Rhodesia was liberated from minority rule some 15 years before neighboring South Africa — he still led a racially discriminatory regime for well over a decade.
(Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
Ramfis Trujillo (Dominican Republic, May 1961-October 1961)
Ramfis's father, the more infamous Rafael Trujillo, ruled the Dominican Republic for over 30 years.
His oldest son, who was made a colonel at the age of 4, only spent a few months as the Caribbean nation's dictator — but he used them to mount a brutal reprisal campaign against those he suspected of assassinating his father on May 30, 1960.
An "accomplished torturer" and inveterate playboy, when Ramfis left the Dominican Republic by yacht to go into exile in Spain in late 1961, he reportedly took his father's coffin with him.
Guatemala went had military presidents through 1986, but the country's civil war continued until December 1996.
(Photo via Wikipedia)
Francisco Macías Nguema (Equatorial Guinea, 1968-1979)
The first president of Equatorial Guinea was a paranoid kleptocrat who declared himself leader for life, kept much of the national treasury in suitcases under his bed, and killed or exiled an estimated one-third of the former Spanish colony's population of 300,000.
Nguema's hatred of his country's educated classes led to comparisons with Cambodia's Pol Pot.
Extensive forced-labor programs brought to mind other historical cruelties as well: One visitor to the country during Nguema's rule described it as "the concentration camp of Africa — a cottage-industry Dachau."
Nguema was executed after his nephew, Teodoro Obiang, overthrew him in a 1979 coup.
Theodore Sindikubwabo (Rwanda, April 1994-July 1994)
Theodore Sindikubwabo bears little personal responsibility for the organization of the Rwandan genocide, which was largely the project of hardline army officers and government officials like Theoneste Bagasora.
But when Rwandan president Juvenal Habyrimana's plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, Sindikubwabo was the man that the genocide's architects selected as Rwanda's head of state.
The former pediatrician was the official head of a government that perpetrated the slaughter of an estimated 800,000 people.
Far from attempting to stop the bloodbath, Sindikubwabo appeared in Cayahinda, Rwanda, on April 20, 1994, to "to thank and encourage" militants carrying out the genocide, and to "promise he would send soldiers to help local people finish killing the Tutsi who were barricaded" in a local church, according to Human Rights Watch.
Sindikubwabo fled into neighboring Zaire after the forces of current Rwandan president Paul Kagame invaded the country during the closing days of the genocide.