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 right to a fair trial, protection of the physical integrity, protection against enslavement, the right to free speech, the right to education.
The protection of human rights is certainly one of the most important aspects of development. Unfortunately it receives much less attention than other aspects, presumably also 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 capture whether or not certain human rights are protected in practice.
# Empirical View
# Protection from political repression and violations of “physical integrity rights”
The problem – ethically you want to increase the standards by which we assess human rights violations over time, but this poses a problem for measurement: One of the fundamental drivers to reach the aim of protecting human rights is the increasing recognition of the many dimensions in which individual rights are violated. It is therefore crucial to change the standards of human rights protection if you want to improve human rights protection. From an ethical perspective it makes sense to raise the standards of human right protections if your aim is to abolish more and more repressive practices by which governments abuse the human rights of their citizens.
However, from a measurement perspective raising the standards by which we evaluate whether human rights are protected poses a problem. This is because changing the standards for what constitutes human rights violations makes it impossible to compare human rights protection over time.
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 organizatios measure the protection of human rights have indeed changed over time.
Fariss’ 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.
To correct for the bias introduced by changing standards in the measurement of human rights protection Fariss developed the ‘dynamic standard model’. With this model he adjusts for the bias in measurements so that human right protection measurements can be compared over time. Fariss uses available quantitative information on human rights violations and then employs statistical techniques to correct for the changing standards of human right protections.
His empirical measures 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 year relative to the average across the entire time (1949-2014) of all countries: This means, a zero score represents the average level of observed physical integrity abuses for the entire period (1949-2014). The human rights scores represent standard deviations above and below zero; as can be seen the worst and best country-years fall 2 to 3 standard deviations below or above the average.
The finding of the research: After correcting for changing standards of human right measurement Fariss concluded that globally ‘physical integrity practices have improved over time.’
This is an important finding as such, but it is particularly important also because it contradicts the unadjusted data from human right organizations, which have indicated that there has been no trend of either improving or worsening human rights protection. Fariss found 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 we saw no trend in human rights protection because at the same time as human right protection improved we also raised the standards by which we measure human right protection.
Viewed in the Chart view this visualisation shows the human rights protection scores for each country over time.
# Fragile States Index – Human Rights Dimension
# Economic Freedom and Press Freedom
# Economic Freedom
# Press Freedom
# 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).
Lynchings in the United States, 1882-19692
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.
# Female Genital Manipulation
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.
# Treatment of Other Races in the USA Post-1950
# Interracial Marriages
Anti-miscegenation laws prohibited interracial marriages in a number of countries around the world; an overview is given here.
# Number of Interracial Marriages
# 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
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
# Race and Politics
Percent of Americans who would vote for a ‘qualified Negro’ / ‘black for President’, 1950s-2010 – GSS & Gallup Data8
# Racism outside the USA
Discriminatory and affirmative action policies, 1950-2003 – Marshall and Gurr (2005)9
Students’ attitudes towards equal rights for ethnic minorities by level of civic knowledge, 2009 – OECD (2012)10
# 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.
# 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
# Shifting social views on homosexuality, women and race in the USA (in %), 1987-2012 – Pew Research12
# 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: www.humanrightsscores.org
- 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.