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Human Rights Index?


Published in International Associations, 1971, 9, pp. 545-552


Introduction
Human Rights and Economic Development

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Introduction

It is very difficult to measure the degree to which human rights are observed within a given country. Every form of measure is open to objection or to charges of being inapplicable in the country in question. Qualitative measures, or evaluations by "experts", are only useful to those who wish to believe in the experts -- those countries which do not meet the favour of the experts simply question their qualification as experts, or reject or ignore their views.

Much has been said about the importance of the various multilateral international conventions on human rights. The extent to which a given country subscribes to such conventions is some objective measure of its degree of "human rights consciousness". The United Nations Division of Human Rights regularly publishes the official table of the signatures and ratifications by the countries of the world -- as approved by the Commission on Human Rights (see International Associations, November, 1971, 546-9). But to us the table is rather indigestible. It is difficult to get an overall comparative view of how a given country is "performing" on human rights questions. This is rendered particularly difficult because a given country may not be eligible to sign a given convention, or, having signed, may not yet have ratified the convention. As an experiment therefore, we have given each country 2 points for each "ratification", and 1 point for each "signature". The total for each country is then divided by the total number of points which the country could get if it ratified all the human rights conventions for which it is eligible -- the result is then multiplied by 100 to give a percentage figure of human rights "performance". In effect, this is a crude, but very objective "human rights index".

Clearly every country can have a human rights index figure between 0 (no signatures or ratifications) and 100 (ratification of all conventions open to it). This index figure may be displayed as part of the table of convention ratifications, (see International Associations, November, 1971, pp. 546-9). But such a list of index values is not particularly illuminating displayed in this way. The next step was therefore to split the countries up by continent : Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia, Europe, Oceania, and to allocate them to positions in a table according to their human rights index value. The countries within each continent were split into 12 ranges of index values which can be called human rights performance categories. To each of these we have tentatively attached a description of the probable state of the country with regard to human rights. (see table 2, p. 550-1). There are of course many weak points in any such approach, particularly since allocation to a high category only gives a strong probability of human rights consciousness. The missing piece of information is that we do not know anything about the degree of implementation within a given country as the final step in the series signature, ratification, implementation. (If we did we could give 3 points for "implementation" and add an extra dimension of meaning to the index).


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