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World: Rights Group Sees Link Between Freedom And Prosperity

  • Andrew Tully

Freedom House -- the human-rights monitor -- has issued its latest report on political and civil liberties around the world. The survey not only ranks the world's 192 countries on their people's freedom. It also makes some observations on how freedom affects economic prosperity. RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 21 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Freedom House -- which monitors human rights around the world -- sees a compelling link between the a society's level of freedom and its prosperity.

The organization said economic growth in nations that it rates as "free" has been 70 percent greater than in nations rated "not free" during a nine-year period of the past decade. It said this trend is evident even in poor democracies.

Freedom House made the correlation Wednesday in releasing its annual "Survey of Freedom in the World." The report said that from 1990 to 1998, the economies of politically free nations grew at an average annual rate of 2.56 percent. The economies in states that Freedom House says are not free grew at an average annual rate of only 1.46 percent.

Adrian Karatnycky, president of Freedom House, told a news conference in Washington that there are four reasons that political freedom promotes prosperity: respect for the rule of law, enforcement of private property rights, a populace engaged in the political process, and a press that exposes the kind of corruption that tends to stifle a nation's overall prosperity.

Perhaps surprisingly, poorer democracies tended to have even greater rates of economic growth from 1990 to 1998 than the average for all free countries. The report said countries with annual average per capita incomes below $5,000 had an annual average economic growth rate of 3.23 percent. These countries include India, El Salvador, Ghana and Mongolia.

In short, Karatnycky says, good governance is good for business.

"As the survey's findings indicate, the promotion of political freedom is not exclusively a matter of moral values. It is also, according to the survey's findings, clear that political rights and civil liberties reinforce economic development, economic growth."

One exception to the report's finding is China. Its economy has been growing rapidly for more than a decade despite a repressive government. But Karatnycky stresses that this is the exception to the rule that freedom encourages prosperity. And Charles Graybow -- a Freedom House analyst who specializes in Asia -- notes that the current global economic slowdown is affecting China just as much as it affects democracies.

"Even a country like China, which has had some very strong economic growth in the last several years, is also facing some tremendous economic problems now. They have to shut down these huge state-owned factories, and they're going to be facing huge layoffs."

These economic observations were just part of Freedom House's annual ranking of the nations of the world in terms of civil liberties. The report, titled "Freedom in the World 2000-2001," found that 86 of the 192 countries in the world are free. This is one more than in last year's report.

Freedom House says these 86 nations contain 2,500 million people, or nearly 41 percent of the population of the Earth. That is the highest percentage of people living in freedom since the New York-based human-rights monitor began its annual reports 25 years ago.

The report -- based on information gathered by Freedom House and outside analysts -- says 59 countries with 1,400 million people are "partly free," according to Freedom House's terminology. This means that these nations have more limited political rights and civil liberties, and their governance is more likely to be characterized by corruption, dominant ruling parties and, in some cases, ethnic strife.

Finally, the report says, 47 countries with 2,200 million inhabitants are categorized as being "not free." Their peoples are denied civil liberties and political rights.

The survey says four countries -- including Croatia -- improved their standings from "partly free" to "free." Twenty other nations demonstrated progress in civil liberties and political rights. They include Bosnia and Yugoslavia.

Only one country -- the Kyrgyz Republic -- lost ranking. It moved from "partly free" to "not free" because, according to Freedom House, President Askar Akayev has further consolidated his already strong hold on political power. The survey also said recent presidential and parliamentary elections there were -- quoting -- "neither free nor fair." Belarus, meanwhile, retained its rating of "not free," and Ukraine kept its rating of "partly free."

Each year, Freedom House also lists what it calls "The Worst of the Worst" -- the most repressive of the 47 nations designated "not free." This year there are 11 such nations. They include Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea and Turkmenistan, under President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Russia did not lose standing in the survey. It is still ranked as "partly free." But the report expressed concern over Spain's arrest of media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky for possible extradition to Russia on charges of financial fraud. Karatnycky said it is not uncommon for countries emerging from communist control to file such charges against wealthy business people who appear not to be adhering to new financial laws.

"But it is very clear in Russia's case that this is a selective campaign, that it is focused and targeted on the most independent media and the most independent media holdings, that Mr. Gusinsky is being victimized precisely because his media have been courageous enough in reporting on the Chechen war objectively, has been a critic of some of the government's political and -- political measures, political moves."

Overall, however, Freedom House concludes that 2000 was a promising year for human rights worldwide. In fact, Karatnycky says, the next U.S. president, George W. Bush, has encouraging prospects for drawing up his foreign policy. He said Bush will be able to work with an increasing number of nations that share what he called America's "commitment to open political processes, the rule of law and economic freedom rooted in property rights."

(Details of the Freedom House report are available at: http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/survey/eco.htm)

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