Measuring civil and political human rights

Our eight civil and political human rights metrics are based on information collected directly from human rights practitioners monitoring events in specific countries. We have developed a new, peer-reviewed methodology drawing on a multilingual survey of experts.

Why measuring civil and political human rights is difficult

Civil and political human rights are fundamental, but difficult to measure. Violations of these rights often take place in secret and are denied by the people who order and carry them out. Often the violators attempt to place the blame for their actions on rogue agents or other actors. Indeed, the blame is often placed on the victims themselves, who are frequently described as radicals, criminals, or a threat to national security. Even when knowledge of violations is available, it is subject to uneven reporting by media, governments, and others. Previous measurement efforts have mostly based their measures on public documentation. However, this approach suffers from problems of undercounting, uncertainty, and bias.

Check out this introduction to our civil and political rights methodology on YouTube.


Our solution to these challenges

At the Human Rights Measurement Initiative, our response to these challenges is to get information directly from the human rights researchers and practitioners who are monitoring events in each country. Since comprehensive objective data don’t exist, this is the best available source of information on civil and political rights globally. By feeding their knowledge into a comprehensive database, these human rights experts are growing the world’s knowledge and contributing to real improvements in people’s lives.

We gather information using an expert opinion survey, translated into many languages, designed to collect an unvarnished appraisal of human rights practices in the countries in which these human rights experts work. HRMI then uses this to construct measures that include a great deal more information than has previously been available, including data about human rights abuses that go unreported in public.

One of the strengths of this approach is that it lets us collect information from global, regional, national, and local organisations, giving us a diverse pool of perspectives. Another strength lies in our advanced statistical techniques for combining, and ensuring comparability across, responses. This allows us to produce data on civil and political rights that are comparable across countries, and to provide information on uncertainty, in the form of an uncertainty band around our measures.

Information is also collected about:

  • which groups in society are particularly vulnerable to abuses of each right;
  • specific circumstances in each country, such as the types of protests that were suppressed, or the geographical areas where violations occurred;
  • the degree to which the abuses described are being carried out by state versus non-state actors;
  • other issues as they arise, such as questions about pandemic responses in 2020.


Which countries do we measure civil and political rights in?

Every year we run the expert survey in more countries; in 2022 we are covering half the world’s population, in more than 40 countries, listed on our country coverage page.

If you would like us to produce these data for your country, please read about how we can partner together to make that possible.

The 2022 survey is available here for you to see. [Please note this is a link to a preview of the survey only, and any responses you make will not be collected].


Who can be a survey respondent?

Survey respondents are human rights researchers and practitioners who are monitoring events in one of the survey countries. They must fit in one of the following categories:

  • Human rights expert (researcher, lawyer, other practitioner) monitoring human rights rights events in a survey country. They may be working for an international or domestic NGO or civil society organisation.
  • Journalists covering human rights issues in a survey country.
  • Staff working for the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) of a survey country, if that NHRI is accredited with “A status” – meaning that it is fully compliant with the Paris Principles.

In most cases survey respondents are located within the country they are providing information on. For more closed countries we expect a higher proportion of external respondents.

We do not collect information from government officials or from staff working at government-organised NGOs, as they may have a conflict of interest.

Our priority is to seek respondents who have access to primary sources and are often the first points of contact for that information on the ground. For this reason, we do not usually seek academics as survey respondents.

Since we do not have the capacity to vet all potential survey respondents ourselves, we work through trusted partners, and a network of HRMI Ambassadors, who help to connect us to potential survey respondents who meet the above criteria.

We guard the identities of survey respondents very closely, so as not to place any of these individuals at risk for sharing their perception of events with us. We outline some of the security measures we take, and suggest participants take, in this article.


For more information, please see our Methodology Handbook and our article in the Journal of Human Rights:

Human rights data for everyone: Introducing the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI)” Anne-Marie Brook, K Chad Clay, and Susan Randolph, in Journal of Human Rights, Volume 19, No 3 (2020), pp 67-82, available as a free PDF download.

Using practitioner surveys to measure human rights: The Human Rights Measurement Initiative’s civil and political rights metrics” K Chad Clay, Ryan Bakker, Anne-Marie Brook, Daniel W Hill, Jr, and Amanda Murdie, in Journal of Peace Research, October 2020, available as a free PDF download.