These have been heady but dangerous days and months for some of the world's captive peoples.
But also — and rightly so — it is a time of mortal, perhaps terminal, peril for the tyrants who have abused, impoverished and in some cases murdered them.
It has been estimated that more than 600 died and some 6,000 were injured in the largely peaceful uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule in Egypt.
Ill and bedfast, Mubarak is on trial in Cairo for war crimes against his own people.
A recent resolution drafted by the U.S. and European nations urges that the International Criminal Court be directed to consider charges against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who unleashed his military in savage attacks on protesters that may have cost as many as 2,000 lives.
Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, the beast of Khartoum, already faces 10 counts of crimes against humanity for his war of genocide in Darfur and in the south of the country — atrocities whose toll has been estimated at 400,000 dead and 2.5 million displaced.
In Libya, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council, between 10,000 and 15,000 have perished in Moammar Gadhafi’s conflict with his own people. Charges against him would seem all but certain — certain, that is, if he manages to survive and emerge from hiding.
These are only the current, manifestly guilty criminals. But there are others.
In Zimbabwe, 86-year-old dictator Robert Mugabe has held power for three decades through intimidation of political opponents — some of them abducted and placed in specially created torture camps.
Under Mugabe’s rule, the country’s agricultural sector has been destroyed, many of the most productive lands distributed to his cronies and now altogether idled.
What once was a breadbasket for central and southern Africa has been transformed into a mendicant ruin — shadowed by the threat of horrific famine and dependent on the world to feed its hungry, 80 percent of whom are without work or even a pittance income.
North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il — whose titles include Father of the People, Sun of the Communist Future, Great Defender, Savior and four dozen other and even more preposterous honorifics — spares nothing to feed his nuclear and military ambitions, but depends on international charity to feed his subjects.
This past March, the World Food Program estimated that more than one-quarter of the country’s 23.3 million people will require food aid this year and that one-third of its children are malnourished or stunted.
Without massive foreign help, North Korea could suffer a repetition of its 1990s famine, in which some 900,000 to 3.5 million perished of starvation and related sicknesses.
These are only a few of the world’s more notable monsters. And there are others. Many others.
Any ranking of dictators according to their nastiness is, of course, a subjective call. But from what I’ve been able to learn, with slight differences in their order, North Korea’s Kim, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe and Sudan’s al-Bashir have solid claim on the top three spots in most lists of the world’s 20 worst tyrants.
There are means of disposing of such individuals.
The Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, and his wife, Elena, were tried before a military court, marched into the snow and executed by firing squad.
Iraq’s Saddam Hussein also was tried, then hanged.
Slobodan Milosevic, former president of Serbia, spent five years in the dock at the Hague, but died of a heart attack in his prison cell before a verdict was reached.
And if time does not deal with them first, what might be the appropriate means of dispatching the Korean, Zimbabwean and Sudanese strongmen?
Considering what they’ve inflicted on the people they’ve ruled, confinement without food might be a reasonable option. And as for Gadhafi, who has vowed to fight to his last bullet, I very much hope he’ll not get that chance.