14 of the World’s Most Controversial Countries

Some countries make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Here are 14 of the world’s most controversial destinations.

There are 195 countries in the world, and every single one has problems. However, some are more controversial than others.

From human rights abuses and political corruption to polemic leaders and oppressive regimes, there are many reasons these destinations cause a global stir. But which countries divide opinion the most, and why? Here are 14 of them…

1. Saudi Arabia

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Oil-rich Saudi Arabia’s human rights track record is a primary cause of the controversy there. The brutal assassination of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 is a prime example of how the country treats its critics.

The Yemeni Civil War and women’s rights (or lack thereof) are further causes of Saudia Arabian controversy.

2. North Korea

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There’s no shortage of controversies in North Korea. This is one of the most notoriously authoritarian countries on the planet, where poverty, human rights abuses, and political repression are all rampant.

North Korea also makes regular headlines for its development (and testing) of advanced weapon systems, including nuclear warheads.

3. Russia

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The list of controversies surrounding Russia and President Vladimir Putin is long and wide-ranging. A few of the recent entries include invading Ukraine, assassinating and imprisoning political rivals, interfering in foreign elections, and quashing political dissent. Putin’s latest affront is threatening to put soldiers on Finland’s border.

4. United Arab Emirates

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is another country made ultra-rich by its oil and gas reserves. However, its reputation has been marred by human rights abuses (including awful treatment of migrant workers), involvement in the Yemeni Civil War, political oppression, media censorship, women’s rights issues, and contentious climate change policies, among others.

5. China

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China has become the world’s second-largest economy after the United States but has also racked up countless controversies. Its apparent disregard for human rights is chief among them. Case and point?

The treatment of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, who have been imprisoned en masse and reportedly subjected to horrific crimes against humanity.

6. Angola

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Angola is a large West African country between Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s rich in natural resources, but has a turbulent, war-torn history that’s often left it dependent on outside support.

Controversies that continue to impact its international reputation include human rights abuses, high levels of corruption, political oppression, suppression of peaceful protest, and media censorship.

7. Sudan

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Sudan is in crisis…again. Coups and civil unrest have been par for the course in this Northeast African country since it became an independent country in 1956.

Today, after a deadly conflict erupted in April last year between two warring groups, another humanitarian crisis is underway. Thousands of people have died already, millions have been displaced, and famine looks likely.

8. Turkey

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Turkey is famous for its welcoming people, rich history, delicious food, and diverse natural beauty. Unfortunately, with President Erdogan at the helm, it also has a reputation for human rights infringements, media censorship, and political oppression. Its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention also drew widespread condemnation.

9. Nigeria

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Nigeria is another West African country facing many significant challenges. There’s widespread violence from armed groups, terrorist groups like Boko Haram, gangs of “bandits,” and an ongoing conflict between herders and farmers.

Human rights abuses from security forces, high inflation, discrimination, and women’s rights issues are further causes of controversy in Nigeria.

10. Somalia

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Piracy is probably the controversy most people will associate with Somalia. However, according to Statista, this has become a smaller issue in recent years.

As few as eight attacks happened off the Somali coast between 2016 and 2022 – a marked drop from the 358 that occurred from 2010 to 2015. Other problems continue to rage, though, including serious conflict, violations of humanitarian law, an outdated penal code, and media censorship.

11. Iran

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Iran’s illicit nuclear program has seen it receive numerous international sanctions, most notably from the US. However, Iran’s history of human rights abuses and crackdowns on peaceful protest, freedom of expression, and political dissent have been equally controversial.

A recent example is the tragic death of Jina Mahsa Amini in September 2022. Arrested by the so-called Morality Police for wearing an “improper” hijab, she died under suspicious circumstances in their custody. It prompted mass protests in Iran, which security forces suppressed using deadly force.

12. Democratic Republic of the Congo

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo is Africa’s second-largest country. Despite sitting on a goldmine of natural resources, it’s also the second poorest. The serious and persistent armed conflict there has led to mass internal displacement and poverty. It’s another country in Africa facing a major humanitarian crisis.

13. Myanmar

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Myanmar’s ongoing persecution and genocide of Rohingya Muslims has compelled over one million refugees to flee since the 1990s. The Rohingya who remain continue to live under “apartheid conditions.”

A military coup in February 2021 caused further upheaval. Peaceful protests have been brutally suppressed, there have been mass arrests, and “special courts” deny peoples’ right to representation, among many other such abuses of power.

14. Afghanistan

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Saying Afghanistan is controversial could be the understatement of the year. The country’s been embroiled in decades of conflict and, after the US withdrew its remaining forces, is led once again by the Taliban.

The Islamic fundamentalist group is notorious for violating human rights, suppressing women’s rights, oppressing protests, and restricting press freedoms.


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Author: Danny Newman

Title: Writer and Content Creator

Expertise: Travel, Digital Nomadry, Outdoors, Blogging

Danny Newman is a writer, content creator, and digital nomad from the UK. He founded the travel and lifestyle blog What’s Danny Doing, a popular resource for people seeking more adventure, self-discovery, and purpose. A nationally syndicated writer, Danny’s work features in dozens of online publications, including MSN.com and news sites across the US.