Are countries with resource distribution inequalities more likely to suffer from higher levels of human rights abuse? This article from the International Studies Quarterlyanalyses data from 162 countries over the period from 1980 to 2004. The results suggest that both income and land inequalities significantly contribute to human rights abuses.
Recent reports on the poor human rights situation in Brazil suggest a connection between poverty, social exclusion, access to land and human rights abuses. This echoes the argument of human rights activists and academics that civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are interconnected. While the literature contains numerous studies connecting resource inequalities to political violence, it has not directly tied resource inequalities to human rights abuses.
The link between resource inequalities and political violence is difficult to explain given the tendency of researchers to use “deaths from political violence” as a proxy. The literature lacks studies that examine “state violence against citizens” which is a wider interpretation of political violence. It includes any kind of violation of fundamental human rights as defined by international human rights conventions.
The literature to date suggests that human rights abuses are connected to resource distribution as ‘rent-seeking’ elites in the government try to maintain their disproportionate share of resources. An empirical model was created to test this theory. It included five control variables drawn from cross-national human rights literature and two test variables; income inequality and land inequality.
After running a global data set on 162 countries between 1980 and 2004, the model revealed a definite correlation between resource inequality and human rights violations. Significant findings indicate that:
- Income inequality and land inequality have negative and significant effects on human rights protection. Of the two, income inequality has a stronger correlation.
- Democracy has a positive and significant effect on human rights protection. This is probably because democratic processes provide mechanisms for citizens to voice grievances and challenge the concentration of resources.
- Domestic conflict and size of population have negative and significant effects on human rights protection.
Policymakers focusing on economic development must account for this connection between resource inequality and human rights violations. This should be done by:
- Promoting economic growth and development that emphasises equitable distribution of national wealth to prevent resource disparities.
- Creating politically and economically inclusive institutions that spread the benefits of development to all facets of society in order to prevent deep inequalities.
- Supporting research that addresses connections between distinct dimensions and types of inequality and rights abuses at the national and sub-national levels. This should include disaggregated data on specific forms of inequality, violence and rights abuse that are often left unobserved.