Letter: Human rights must be earned

DUNCAN Hamilton (Insight, December 12) describes China's human rights records as "dreadful", but every society has the right to set its own standards in such entitlements.

There seems to be an assumption that excessive repression is the only extreme involved, but the same applies to over-indulgence.

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Critical in state-sponsored rights is acceptance by the public, which might be an area of criticism in the Chinese approach. However, you report elsewhere on the EU directive that prisoners have the right to vote in elections: how much public acceptance is there of that? It would not be too difficult to construct a rights-based case against imprisonment itself.

The very idea of "human rights" is nonsense, implying rights just for being born. What does make sense is privileges dependent on acceptable behaviour according to society's observed norms. These would be withdrawn, perhaps temporarily, in the case of misbehaviour. Under-age drinking, for instance, might be promptly cured by withholding child benefit.

Robert Dow, Tranent