Measuring civil & political human rights

Civil and political human rights ensure your ability to live and to engage in religious, political, intellectual, or other activities free from coercion, abuse, or discrimination.

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.

Our solution to these challenges

At the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), 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 will be growing the world’s knowledge and contributing to real improvements in people’s lives.

We have performed a pilot research study to test this approach for 13 countries. We gathered information using an expert opinion survey designed to collect an unvarnished appraisal of human rights practices in the countries in which these human rights experts work. HRMI then used 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 permits us to obtain 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; and
  • The degree to which the abuses described are being carried out by state versus non-state actors.

Our civil and political rights pilot

In HRMI’s pilot phase in 2017, we developed new metrics for seven civil and political rights, each based on provisions contained in international law:

We produced metrics for 13 countries in our pilot. These countries were selected in September 2017 based on the following two criteria:

  • Sufficient interest from human rights experts in that country for inclusion (so that we can be sure we have sufficient numbers of survey respondents and active engagement during the pilot).
  • A sub-set of 13 countries that offers diversity of sizes, regions, cultures, income levels, degree of openness etc (so that we can learn how well our survey methodology works in different contexts).

The 13 countries are: Angola, Australia, Brazil, Fiji, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Mexico, Mozambique, Nepal, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom. You can read more about the country selection in this blog post.

During October and November 2017, we collected information on civil and political rights in the 13 pilot countries via a secure online expert opinion survey [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 each of the 13 pilot countries. For the pilot, 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 pilot country. They may be working for an international or domestic NGO or civil society organisation.
  • Journalists covering human rights issues in a pilot country.
  • Staff working for the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) of a pilot 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. Consistent with our philosophy of remaining independent, we do not collect information from government officials or from staff working at government-organised NGOs. 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 did not seek academics as survey respondents in the pilot.

Since we do not have the capacity to vet all potential survey respondents ourselves, we worked through trusted partners, who helped to connect us to potential survey respondents who met 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.

What measures have we produced?

Using advanced statistical techniques to ensure comparability across respondents, we collated responses, allowing us to summarise for each country:

  • The relative frequency of abuses of each of the seven rights, and measures of uncertainty.
  • A list of groups in society who are particularly vulnerable to abuses of each of the seven rights.

This is a new methodology and the purpose of our pilot was to learn what works best so we can further develop our approach. The pilot was undertaken over the second half of 2017, and the resulting data published in March 2018. Next we plan to refine our approach, make this a regular cycle, and roll out to world-wide coverage. If you would like to nominate your country for inclusion in the 2019 cycle of the survey, please get in touch.

For more information, please see our Methodology Handbook.

References

United Nations. 1987. Human Rights: Questions and Answers. New York: United Nations.