Letter: Abuses of human rights that should concern the world community in Vienna

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The Independent Online
Sir: I write in response to the article by Partha Dasgupta ('Why voting doesn't mean starving', 14 June) and your leading article of 15 June regarding economic development and human rights. Professor Dasgupta discusses interesting statistics which correlate economic advancement to good human rights in a sample of the 51 poorest countries in 1970. As pointed out by Professor Dasgupta, a causal relationship between economic wellbeing and good human rights cannot be established. By the same token, a move to authoritarianism is not necessarily detrimental in terms of economic growth.

The cases of India and China are relevant and important examples in this context, because between them they account for about 40 per cent of the world's citizens. While India has advanced democratic institutions, it has not been able to eradicate some of the most degrading conditions of human existence. China, on the other hand, has repressive social order, but is a spectacular economic success when the size of its population and small proportion of arable land are considered.

Neither is a model for humane development, but one seems to have been more successful in eradicating the gross misery that accompanies economic deprivation. The problem of coupling human rights to the questionable economic prescriptions of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund is that it is likely to be counterproductive. The resentment that results from the imposition of their economic policies (which in any case may fail) will also be directed against 'Western human rights', thus clouding the fact that there exists a set of fundamental and universal human rights which must form the basis of modern society.

On a short-term basis, it is imperative that success is achieved in preventing abuses such as torture, summary imprisonment and institutionalised racism. Multiparty democracy has not prevented such abuses occurring in poor countries.

Yours sincerely,

GEHAN AMARATUNGA

Churchill College

Cambridge

15 June

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