Human Rights

Notice: This is only a preliminary collection of relevant material

Below you find some relevant material, but it is only a preliminary collection and we will further develop our work on this topic in the future (to cover it in the same detail as for example our entry on World Population Growth).

If you have expertise in this area and would like to contribute, apply here to join us as a researcher.

Human rights describe moral norms or moral standards which are understood as inalienable fundamental rights of every human person. Human rights encompass a wide variety of rights, including but not limited to the right to a fair trial, protection of physical integrity, protection against enslavement, the right to free speech, and the right to education.

The protection of human rights is certainly one of the most important aspects of development. Nevertheless, it receives much less attention than other aspects, presumably in part because it is so very hard to measure. If one is interested in empirically studying the protection of human rights, it is not enough to count countries that ratify human rights treaties; instead, the quantitative study of human rights aims to determine whether or not certain human rights are protected in practice.

Empirical View

Protection from political repression and violations of “physical integrity rights”

The problem – the standards by which we assess human rights violations increase over time, which poses a problem for measurement: One of the fundamental drivers in the safeguarding of human rights is the recognition of new dimensions along which individual rights can be violated. From an ethical perspective, therefore, it is necessary to raise the standards of human rights if your aim is to abolish more and more oppressive practices by which individuals’ human rights can be abused.

From an empirical perspective, however, raising the standards by which we evaluate whether or not human rights are protected is problematic, because it becomes increasingly difficult to compare human rights violations over time: what constitutes an egregious violation today might have been considered common practice two-hundred years ago.

The solution – correct for changing standards of accountability: In a landmark paper – Fariss (2014)1 – the political scientist Christopher J. Fariss investigated whether the standards by which human rights organisations measure the protection of human rights have indeed changed over time.

Fariss’ assessment of the protection of human rights focussed on the protection of the physical integrity of citizens. He aimed to measure how a government protects its citizens’ physical integrity, by taking into account torture, government killing, political imprisonment, extrajudicial executions, mass killings and disappearances.

To correct for the bias introduced by changing standards in the measurement of human rights protection, Fariss developed the ‘dynamic standard model’. In this model, he adjusted for the bias in measurements so that the protection of human rights can be compared over time. Fariss used the available data on human rights violations, then employed statistical techniques to correct for changing standards.

His empirical measurements of human right protection are presented in the visualisation below. You can move the slider underneath the map to see the change over time, and by switching to the Chart view you can see his assessment of human rights protection country-by-country over time.

How to read this chart: Higher values – higher human rights scores – indicate better human rights protection.
The human rights scores represent the relative position of one country in one specific year relative to the average of all countries across the entire period (1949-2014), which is set to zero. The human rights scores represent standard deviations above and below zero: as illustrated, the worst and best country-years fall 2 to 3 standard deviations below or above the baseline.

The finding of the research: After correcting for the shifting standards of human right measurements, Fariss concluded that globally, ‘physical integrity practices have improved over time.’

This finding is unequivocally positive, but is made all the more salient in the context of unadjusted data from human right organizations, which indicate that there has been no trend of either improving or worsening human rights protection. Fariss concluded that ‘the pattern of constant abuse found in data derived from human rights reports is not an indication of stagnating human rights practices. Instead, it reflects a systematic change in the way monitoring agencies, like Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department, encounter and interpret information about human rights abuses.’

Fariss’ research findings suggest that the reason we saw no trend in human rights protection is that as it improved, so did the standards by which we measure it.

Viewed in the Chart view this visualisation shows the human rights protection scores for each country over time.

Click to open interactive version
Click to open interactive version

Fragile States Index – Human Rights Dimension

Click to open interactive version

Economic Freedom and Press Freedom

Economic Freedom

Click to open interactive version
Click to open interactive version

Press Freedom

Click to open interactive version
Click to open interactive version

Lethal violence against minorities

Decline of lynchings in the US

There is much less long-term data on the treatment of minorities than one would hope for. Records however do exist for the most extreme forms of violence such as lynchings.

The first institution to record lynchings in the USA was the Tuskegee Institute, which is now Tuskegee University. Their data is shown here (for other statistics on lynchings see Wikipedia).

The data was also mapped by the Tuskegee Institute, and this US map of lynchings by states and counties in the United States from 1900 to 1931 is described by Slate Magazine here.

Lynchings in the United States, 1882-19692

Download Data

Female Genital Mutilation

The map below shows the share of women who have gone through partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons. Data is only available for African and Middle Eastern countries.

Click to open interactive version

Treatment of Other Races in the USA Post-1950

Segregationist attitudes in the United States, 1942-1997 – Pinker (2011)3
Segregationist attitudes in the United States, 1942–1997 - Pinker0

Interracial Marriages

Anti-miscegenation laws prohibited interracial marriages in a number of countries around the world; an overview is given here.

US map of dates of repeal of anti-miscegenation laws by state – Wikipedia4
US Map of Dates of Repeal of US Anti-Miscegenation Laws by State - Wikipedia0

Number of Interracial Marriages

Share married to someone of a different race/ethnicity in the USA, 1980-2008 – Pew Research5
Share married to someone from a different race:ethnicity (1980-2008) - Pew0

Opinions on Interracial Marriage

‘Do you approve or disapprove of marriage between blacks and whites?’ Share approving black-white marriage among whites and blacks in the USA, 1958-2013 – Gallup (2013)6
Do you approve or disapprove of marriage between blacks and whites? (1958-2013) - Gallup (2013)0
Opposition to laws in the USA banning marriages between blacks and whites by year and year of birth, 1964-2000 – Fischer and Hout (2008)7
Opposition to Laws Banning Marriages Between Blacks and Whites, by Year and Year of Birth,USA (1964-2000) - Fischer and Hout (2008)0

Race and Politics

Percent of Americans who would vote for a ‘qualified Negro’ / ‘black for President’, 1950s-2010 – GSS & Gallup Data8
Percent of Americans who Would vote for a 'qualified Negro' : 'Black for President' (1950s-2010) - GSS & Gallup Data

Racism outside the USA

Discriminatory and affirmative action policies, 1950-2003 – Marshall and Gurr (2005)9
Trends in Political Discrimination, 1950-2003 - Marshall and Gurr (2005)
Students’ attitudes towards equal rights for ethnic minorities by level of civic knowledge, 2009 – OECD (2012)10
Students’ attitudes towards equal rights for ethnic minorities (2009), by level of civic knowledge - OECD (2012)0

Correlates, Determinants, & Consequences

Prosperity is correlated with better human rights protection

The chart below plots the level of GDP per capita against the Human Rights Protection Score from Schnakenberg and Fariss. We see that more prosperous countries tend to protect human rights better. Some resource rich economies – Saudi-Arabia, Kuwait, Equatorial-Guinea and others – are outliers which are both rich and have low human rights protection scores. The countries with the lowest human rights protection scores are also poor economies.

Click to open interactive version

Cascade of Rights

Use of the phrases ‘civil rights’, ‘women’s rights’, ‘children’s rights’, ‘gay rights’ and ‘animal rights’ in English-language books, 1900-2008 – Google Ngram11
Cascade of Rights in English-language Books - Google Ngram0
Shifting social views on homosexuality, women and race in the USA (in %), 1987-2012 – Pew Research12
Shifting Social Values on Homosexuality, Women, Race in the USA (1987-2012) - PewResearch0
Social values correlation: gender equality scale and approval of homosexuality for select countries, 1995-2001 – Norris and Inglehart (2004)13
Social Values Correlation Gender Equality Scale & Approval of Homosexuality for a number of countries (1995-2001) - Norris and Inglehart (2004)0

Data Sources

World Values Survey
  • Data: Survey answers to questions about various social values
  • Geographical coverage: Almost 100 countries
  • Time span: 1981 to present
  • Available at: Online here
European Values Survey
  • Data: Survey answers to questions about various social values
  • Geographical coverage: 47 European countries and regions
  • Time span: 1981-2008
  • Available at: Online here
Human Rights Protection Scores
  • Data: This assessment of the protection of human rights focusses on the protection of the physical integrity of citizens. He aims to measure how a government protects the physical integrity takes into account torture, government killing, political imprisonment, extrajudicial executions, mass killings and disappearances.
  • Geographical coverage: Global by country
  • Time span: 1949 to 2014
  • Available at:
  • produced by Christopher Farris and Keith Schnakenberg.
    Published in: Christopher J. Fariss. 2014. Respect for Human Rights has Improved Over Time: Modeling the Changing Standard of Accountability. American Political Science Review 108(2):297-318 (May 2014).
    – Supplementary Materials: Keith Schnakenberg and Christopher J. Fariss. 2014. Dynamic Patterns of Human Rights Practices. Political Science Research and Methods 2(1):1-31 (April 2014).

The Minorities at Risk project tracks 283 politically active ethnic groups throughout the world from 1945 to the present. The website is here.