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General questions about the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI)
Our goal is to provide comprehensive data on the human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations’ core international human rights instruments. Developing a full suite of measures will take time and resources. We have begun by focusing on rights in the International Bill of Human Rights, i.e. the Universal Declaration, the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant for Economic Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR). We have chosen those that have been the subject of previous academic study, thus reducing the amount of development time required on each of these rights. In the area of economic, social, and cultural Rights we have also drawn on the General Comments of the treaty monitoring body of the ICESCR (which more finely delineate the substantive rights and elaborate the normative content of each right). We have followed the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)’s classification of the substantive social and economic rights by treating the right to water as a key component of the right to housing. Data limitations have also had an influence – e.g. we do not have a separate metric for the right to social security, although our right to work metric captures some elements of the right to social security.
Our selection of an initial set of rights does not imply that these are seen as more important or more fundamental than those rights that are not included. HRMI believes that all human rights are universal, inalienable, and interdependent. As we evolve, we aim to produce measures that reflect the equal importance of human rights for a life of dignity.
We are very interested in measuring violations of the rights of people in specific regions and vulnerable population subgroups. All people have the same rights as every other person. For civil and political rights, the information that we collect will help us identify which sub-populations are particularly vulnerable to rights violations in each country. In the future we would like to consider the development of measures for specific groups.
For economic and social rights, our methodology can be used to identify rights fulfilment for different sub-populations if the underlying data are available for these groups. This has already been done for some countries. For example, Randolph, Prairie and Stewart (2012) show substantial differences in the degree to which rights are fulfilled across states in the United States and pronounced differences across ethnic groups. In fact, the highest score in any state on rights fulfilment for both blacks and Hispanics is lower than the lowest score on rights fulfilment for whites in any state.
A study by Shareen and Randolph (2015) shows that in India, the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition varies by state, but not due to inadequate food production. States in India with the highest per capita food production meet their obligations to fulfil the right to food to a lesser degree than states with the lowest per capita food production. (Hertel, Shareen, and Susan Randolph. 2015. “The Challenge of Ensuring Food Security: Global Perspectives and Evidence from India.” Chapter 8 in Closing the Rights Gap: From Human Rights to Social Transformation, edited by La Dawn Haglund and Robin Strykler. Oakland: University of California Press.)
HRMI metrics are complementary to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a number of ways.
In the area of economic and social rights, our metrics are particularly relevant to SDGs 1, 2, 3, 4, and 10. Several of the official SDG indicators are also indicators used in the construction of our economic and social rights metrics. The main value added of HRMI’s metrics is that for those SDG (such as eliminating child stunting) that overlap with an indicator used in the construction of one of our metrics, our economic and social rights metrics can shed light on:
- How close to the SDG a given country using best practices could feasibly get using its own resources;
- The extent to which a country is doing as much as is reasonably feasible to achieve the SDG concerned, and
- The magnitude of financial resources that richer countries will need to make available to a given poor country to realise the SDG concerned.
This is important because the SDGs contemplate all countries realising the same target value on each indicator. For many countries in the global south, these targets will be impossible to achieve alone, even if they allocate the maximum of their available resources and use best practices. Thus, under the SDGs, richer countries are called on to help meet the challenge by facilitating the expansion of poor countries’ resource capacity through transfers of financial, technical, and institutional resources. HRMI’s economic and social rights methodology helps to shed light on what the relative contributions should be from each country itself vs the international community.
In the area of civil and political rights, our metrics can help with the monitoring of SDG 16, which is focused on the promotion of “just, peaceful, and inclusive societies.” For example, some specific targets associated with Goal 16 that our metrics could be used to help monitor include:
|Goal 16 target||Relevant HRMI metric/s|
|Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere||Right to freedom from torture
Right to freedom from the death penalty
Right to freedom from extrajudicial execution
Right to freedom from disappearance
|Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all||As above + Right to freedom from arbitrary arrest|
|Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels||Right to participate in government
Right to opinion and expression
Right to assembly and association
|Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements||All 8 metrics listed above|
Questions about our civil and political human rights
Survey respondents must fit in one of the following categories:
- Human rights expert (researcher, lawyer, other practitioner) monitoring civil and political rights events in a country.
- Journalist covering human rights issues in a country.
- Staff working for a country’s national human rights institution that is accredited with “A status”, meaning that it is fully compliant with the Paris Principles.
Since we do not have the capacity to vet all potential survey respondents ourselves, we work through trusted partners. They help to connect us to potential survey respondents who meet the above criteria. We then ask those potential survey respondents to nominate others in that country who meet our criteria (a snowball approach). The identities of survey respondents are closely guarded, so as not to place any of these individuals at risk for sharing their perception of events with us.
Questions about our economic and social rights methodology
How does our methodology ensure that performance scores can distinguish between countries whose resources are just barely sufficient to fulfil a right, or many times more than is necessary to fulfil it?
The statistical indicators feeding into each of the sets of Rights metrics are shown in the table below:
|Statistical indicator||Low- and middle- income assessment standard||High- income assessment standard||Primary data source(s)|
|GDP per person (2011 PPP$)||√||√||World Bank, World Development Indicators|
|Right to education|
|Net primary school enrolment rate||√||U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics|
|Net secondary school enrolment rate||√||√||UNESCO Institute for Statistics|
|% students scoring level 3 or better on PISA math test||√||Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)|
|% students scoring level 3 or better on PISA science test||√||Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)|
|% students scoring level 3 or better on PISA reading test||√||Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)|
|Right to health|
|Modern Contraceptive Use Prevalence Rate (% women 15-49)||√||United Nations Population Division (UNPD)|
|Child (under 5) % survival rate (100 – % child mortality rate)||√||√||Inter-agency Group for child mortality estimates (UNICEF, WHO, United Nations, World Bank)|
|Adult (15-60) % survival rate. (100 – % adult mortality rate)||√||√||Data from either (1) UNPD or (2) Max Planck Institution for Demographic Research, University of California-Berkeley|
|% Babies NOT low birth weight (% live births weighing > 2500 grams)||√||Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Bank|
|Right to food|
|% Children (under 5) NOT Stunted (100 – child malnutrition prevalence-height for age)||√||UNICEF, WHO, World Bank Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates (JME)|
|% population NOT moderately or severely food insecure based on the Food Insecurity Experience global reference scale.||√||Food and agricultural organization (FAO)|
|Right to work|
|% population NOT absolutely poor (income>$3.20 2011 PPP$ per day)||√||World Bank, World Development Indicators|
|% population NOT relatively poor (income>50% median income)||√||Luxembourg Income Study, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)|
|% unemployed NOT long-term (>12 months) unemployed||√||Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)|
|Right to housing|
|% population with “basic” drinking water service on premises||√||WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme|
|% population with at least “basic” sanitation facilities||√||WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme|
|% population with “safely managed” sanitation||√||WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme|
|% of poorest income quintile with access to affordable housing||√||Data calculated from OECD Affordable housing database|
Factors that influenced the selection of the indicators listed above are:
- Where possible, we select “bellwether indicators” (so that we end up with no more than three indicators for each economic and social right).
- Our selection of statistical indicators is practically constrained by current data availability. This, plus different rights challenges in high-income OECD countries versus other countries, led to our creation of the two separate sets of rights metrics (one for high-income OECD countries and the other, our core assessment standard, for all other countries). For example, for OECD countries, ensuring all students complete primary school is not an issue, so although this is an indicator we use for our core right to education metric, it is not an indicator used for our high-income OECD country right to education metric. For our high-income OECD country right to education metric, we’ve included an indicator of the quality of schooling, performance on the PISA test, among our education indicators. The quality of education is no less a concern for all other countries, it’s just that there is no indicator of educational quality with broad coverage available at this time.