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Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach


by Filip Spagnoli (draft - please do not use without permission)
Brussels, March 16, 2009

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


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Table of Contents

0. Introduction
1. Definitions
1.1. The qualitative approach
1.2. The quantitative approach
1.2.1. Aggregated
1.2.2. Reproducible
1.2.3. Others characteristics of measurements
1.3. Overlaps
2. Advantages and disadvantages of either approach
2.1. The qualitative approach
2.1.1. Advantages
2.1.2. Disadvantages
2.2. The quantitative approach
2.2.1. Advantages
2.2.1. Disadvantages
3. Why should human rights violations be measured?
3.1. Measuring and promoting success
3.2. Identifying causes
4. How should human rights volations be measured?
4.1. Transparency and comparability
4.2. Statistical soundness
4.3. Cultural sensitivity
4.4. Simple or composite measures
4.5. Useful output
5. What should be measured?
5.1. Types of measurements
5.2. Cross-measurements
5.3. Meta-measurements
5.4. Stylized example
5.5. Other examples
6. What are the problems with measurements?
6.1. Statistical problems
6.2. Political problems
6.3. How to improve measurements?
7. Conclusions

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


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0. Introduction

There are two ways of describing or documenting the phenomenon of human rights
violations. There's the qualitative approach, and there's the quantitative approach.
The aim of both approaches is the same: to describe or document human rights vi-
olations, and thereby to contribute to the realization of a higher level of respect for
human rights. They only differ in the preferred descriptive methods, not in the ob-
ject of description or the purpose that is served by the description.

The qualitative approach is relatively uncontroversial and has a proven track-


record. Organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch use
it extensively and successfully since many decades. The quantitative approach is
more recent, more controversial, and a long way from being settled. However, it is
a descriptive method that is potentially very useful. For those reasons, it will be the
focus of this paper. This focus does not imply a judgment on either approach. The
two approaches are complementary and equally necessary.

1. Definitions

1.1. The qualitative approach


The qualitative study of human rights aims to record specific instances of rights vi-
olations, naming victims and perpetrators, and detailing the "story" or the event as
well as possible. It wants to determine, in the form of a narrative, what happened,
who was involved, who was responsible and who suffered. It is based primarily on
fact-finding, testimonials, witness accounts, victims accounts, press reports, NGO
reports etc. It is of a journalistic and often anecdotal nature. The focus is on one
specific event. In this sense, it is related to the judicial approach, and can be labeled

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


as "pre-judicial" in the sense that it prepares the way for and contributes informa-
tion to a possible judicial case against the rights violators.1

A particularly interesting data source in the quantitative approach are so-called ex-
pert-group data. These result from interviews with expert, independent researchers,
Page | 4 field workers, forensic specialists, psychologists, government officials etc.

1.2. The quantitative approach

Broadly speaking, whereas the qualitative approach uses words to describe rights
violations, the quantitative approach uses numbers, scores and scales.2 The quantit-
ative study of human rights aims:

to establish aggregated and reproducible measurements, indica-


tors or scores of respect (or lack thereof) for human rights in a
certain place at a certain time.

Let me focus for a moment on two core elements of this definition, aggregation
and reproduction. I will return to the definition of measurement, indicator or score
(henceforth MIS) in paragraph 4, "How should human rights violations be meas-
ured".

1.2.1. Aggregated

The MISs that make up the quantitative approach are aggregated in the sense that
they transcend specific events, cases, persons, perpetrators or victims. The evidence
that is aggregated into an MIS must come from a large and statistically representa-
tive (and random) sample or even the whole population of relevant cases of rights
violations.3

Case studies as such, even a few of them, are insufficient sources for MISs. The
usual statistical and scientific methods regarding representativity, randomness of
the samples, quality control, coherent sources etc. must be respected. Data sources
for MISs are typically household surveys, opinion surveys, national accounts data,

1
Of course, in many cases, violations do not reach the court, and the only "verdict" is the one that is issued
by public opinion and "history". However, this makes the quasi-judicial role of the qualitative approach all
the more important.
2
See The Metagora Project, http://www.metagora.org/html/index.html. I consider ordinal scales (such as
"good, medium, bad") to numeric in nature.
3
The Quantitative Study of Human Rights Violations, Cingarelli & Richards (2007), p. 1.

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


census data, criminal justice data and other official and administrative sources such
as tax data, prison statistics, social security data etc.

The quantitative approach is therefore more than the sum of results of the qualita-
tive approach, although it's not impossible to conceive of cases in which qualitative
Page | 5 results can be a useful input in quantitative measurements, especially if the events
included in qualitative results are systematically described, in a standardized fa-
shion using common definitions and attributes that make it possible to aggregate
the descriptions. For example, registration of the sex, age, race, ethnicity of the vic-
tims and perpetrators.4 Qualitative data are then turned into numbers.

However, often this is not the case, either because qualitative descriptions of human
rights violations are not done in this way, or because it is impossible to do it in this
way. And even if they are, it is almost inevitable that the events will be recorded in
a highly selective way, even if each individual event is recorded systematically and
completely. As a result, generalizations, country comparisons and the creation of
global or even regional progress indicators are impossible.

Hence, events described in the qualitative approach will not often be useful data
sources for the quantitative approach. Which doesn't mean their recording is use-
less. They are part of the qualitative approach and offer all the advantages of that
approach (see paragraph 2.1. below). They may not be the source of MISs or statis-
tics, but they are the source of history and they are especially useful in court proce-
dures.

Ideally, quantitative human rights data should also provide explanations of the
causes of rights violations, but this paper focuses only on the descriptive power of
these data, and their ability to offer measurements of variations in human rights vi-
olations (variations over space and time) and to offer the possibility to evaluate and
adjust policies and human rights projects.

1.2.2. Reproducible

The MISs need to be reproducible, both over space and time. It must be possible to
calculate the same score in different places (e.g. countries) and at different times.
This will allow comparisons over space and time, an important aspect of the quan-
titative human rights approach. Different countries, for example, can be compared
by way of their different scores. And progress or retreat over the course of time can
also be measured.5

This is important because it is widely accepted and legally codified that some hu-
man rights, and in particular some economic human rights, can be realized only

4
Quantitative Human Rights Indicators, A Survey of Major Initiatives, Malhotra & Fasel (2005), p. 6. The
organization http://www.huridocs.org has made a particular effort in this field.
5
ibidem, p. 3.

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


progressively rather than immediately, on account of resource constraints.6 When
monitoring respect for human rights, one shouldn't only focus on the realization of
a certain outcome, but also on the process of realization and on the speed and level
of progress towards a certain outcome.7

Page | 6
1.2.3. Others characteristics of measurements

MISs should not only be aggregated and reproducible. As pointed out by Sano,8
they should also be:

balanced: minimal ambiguity of measurement


sensitive towards desired change and specific groups
motivating: induce intended performance
practical: affordable, accurate, available
owned: legitimate in the eyes of those affected by them
clear: target groups should be able to understand them

No doubt one can come up with yet other elements.

1.3. Overlaps

The distinction between the two approaches should not become a fetish. Quantita-
tive measures always imply qualitative statements because they always express a
judgment on the quality (or lack thereof) of human rights protection.9 On the other
hand, purely quantitative evaluations without examples and telling cases, are often
meaningless because they reduce real suffering, deprivation and tyranny into a set
of abstract numbers.

6
For example, article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: The States
Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself
and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living
conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right. (My empha-
sis).
7
Quantitative Human Rights Indicators, A Survey of Major Initiatives, Malhotra & Fasel (2005), p. 27.
8
Human Rights Indicators, Purpose and Validity, Sano (2005).
9
ibidem, p. 3. See The Metagora Project, http://www.metagora.org/html/index.html.

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


2. Advantages and disadvantages of either approach

2.1. The qualitative approach


Page | 7 2.1.1. Advantages

Qualitative approaches are mostly anecdotal. We can find them, for example, in AI
or HRW reports. They have the advantage of showing the human side of stories.
They engender empathy and motivate to take action. Their often very detailed narr-
atives of events make them the ideal sources of history as well as invaluable contri-
butions in the administration of (criminal) justice in those cases in which rights vi-
olations reach the courts. But even when they don't, it may be possible that viola-
tions stop because of the mobilizing power of the qualitative approach. This ap-
proach also allows researchers to uncover the motivation(s) behind rights viola-
tions.

2.1.2. Disadvantages

However, qualitative approaches can be based on false, subjective or manipulated


testimonies, or on information gathered in often difficult circumstances. Press re-
ports - or regular source of the qualitative approach - may be inaccurate.

Qualitative approaches may also fail to show the larger perspective of the human
rights situation in a particular place. Magnitudes and trends of rights violations can
only be offered by the quantitative approach.10

2.2. The quantitative approach


2.2.1. Advantages

The main advantage of the quantitative approach is that it can measure a general
state of affairs, not limited to specific cases or events. It provides a more general
understanding of the level of respect for (a) human right(s) in a particular country
or region, and it uncovers trends that are not immediately detectable on the micro-
scopic level of individual events.11

Rather than reporting individual events or incidents, the quantitative approach tries
to calculate a score, using surveys or other available quantitative information.
When these calculations and scores are repeated over time, it becomes possible to
measure progress and success (or lack of it). Government actions or policies, NGO
activity and intervention by international agencies can then be evaluated and redi-
rected if necessary.

10
See The Metagora Project, http://www.metagora.org/html/index.html.
11
Human Rights Indicators, Purpose and Validity, Sano (2005), p. 3.

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


Successful human rights action requires the use of accurate statistics. All good pol-
icy by governments, international institutions or NGOs, and not just in the field of
human rights, is evidence-based. It is informed by, based on, and if necessary re-
directed by valid empirical data.12

Page | 8 This also holds for judicial action which, for example in the framework of the ICC,
can benefit, not only from highly accurate accounts of events (provided by the qua-
litative approach), but also from accurate, objective and general statistics.13 These
statistics can also assist charities seeking to justify demands for funds. And NGOs
may use them in order to focus or target their more qualitative efforts. Governments
and international institutions may find it necessary to justify investment in human
rights projects, and can do if they have indicators that show the success of these
projects.14

2.2.1. Disadvantages

The quantitative approach makes it all somewhat more impersonal because it fo-
cuses on numbers and rankings rather than stories, and because it takes the general
rather than the anecdotal view (often on the relatively high and abstract level of a
country, a region or even the world). It's purpose is not mobilization or empathy,
but evaluation and prioritization.

In some countries or some domains, statistical data are lacking or of inferior quali-
ty, making it hard to calculate correct MISs and country comparisons. These diffi-
culties are often compounded by definition problems, survey population issues,
question formulation issues, breaks in times series or insufficiently long time series.

Especially democracy measurement poses difficult definition problems. What is


democracy? Depending on the choice of a definition, MISs will produce different
results. A particular country can be classified as democratic or highly democratic
according to one type of measurement, and undemocratic or insufficiently demo-
cratic according to another. Such discrepancies can discredit the qualitative ap-
proach. But also something which at first sight is more straightforward and less
prone to definition issues, such as torture, can be controversial. Is waterboarding
torture, or not? Depending on the answer, the measurement will be different. The
choice of definition determines the measurement. Before engaging in human rights
measurement, it is crucial to have a clear and agreed understanding of the concept
to be measured,15 but unfortunately this is not always the case.

12
See The Metagora Project, http://www.metagora.org/html/index.html.
13
See for example the work of Patrick Ball in Kosovo, http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0207/p20s01-
wogn.html.
14
What’s the Goal? What’s the Purpose? Observations on Human Rights Impact Assessment, Andreassen &
Sano (2004), p. 5.
15
See The Metagora Project, http://www.metagora.org/html/index.html.

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


MISs are therefore inherently controversial. There is often disagreement on the
thing that has to be measured, but also on the best way to measure it.16 All this
points to the relative immaturity of the quantitative approach. For the time being,
there seems to be no way to avoid these problems. All we can do is to strive to-
wards a maximum possible level of consensus, and then be absolutely clear as to
Page | 9 what we are measuring and how, so as to avoid misinterpretation and abuse of
MISs. It's important to realize that we find ourselves in a area of research that is
relatively young and in which the tools, indicators, definitions, procedures and
sources are far from settled.17 A lot of work still needs to be done. However, the
field of human rights is quite extensive, and it ranges from poverty to torture, from
democracy to hate crime etc. On some of the subareas and some MISs, there's much
less controversy than on others. However, in order to avoid all controversy, it
would be desirable to have a worldwide, commonly agreed, uncontroversial, UN
certified system of quantitative monitoring and measuring of human rights viola-
tions.

There are other disadvantages to the quantitative approach. It is often very costly to
gather the required information. And the use of structured surveys makes it hard to
understand the context, background and motivation of rights violations.18

3. Why should human rights violations be measured?

3.1. Measuring and promoting success


Measurements of human rights violations make it possible to present an objective
and general state of affairs and progress report regarding the level of respect for
human rights in a certain country. Like the more events-based descriptions of the
qualitative approach, MISs also allow us to name and shame. Unlike the qualitative
approach, however, MISs can identify governments which do not progress fast
enough. Especially the possibility to compare MSIs over space, and to judge one
country compared to similar countries, puts considerable pressure on governments.

A clear picture of the evolution of violations over time does not only bring out the
force of shame and peer-pressure. It also helps to evaluate of the success of human
rights policies of international institutions and NGOs.

3.2. Identifying causes


MISs are therefore instrumental in measuring and increasing the level of success of
human rights promotion efforts. One particular set of MISs adds an element to this.

16
The Quantitative Study of Human Rights Violations, Cingarelli & Richards (2007), p. 4, and Human
Rights Indicators, Purpose and Validity, Sano (2005), p. 2.
17
Human Rights Indicators, Purpose and Validity, Sano (2005), p. 2.
18
See The Metagora Project, http://www.metagora.org/html/index.html.

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


Most MISs measure individual human rights, but some also measure the interac-
tions of violations, in which case they may provide explanations for violations. For
example, when it becomes evident that there is a correlation and a causal link be-
tween two types of rights violations, for example between lack of education and
poverty levels, then the MIS which measures this correlation becomes a powerful
Page | 10 tool for more successful poverty eradication policies.

4. How should human rights violations be measured?

4.1. Transparency and comparability


I mentioned before that MISs should be measured in a reproducible way, so that
time series can be established, progress (or lack thereof) can be measured, and
countries or regions can be compared. In order to have this reproducibility and con-
tinuity, measurements should be transparent. Full information on the measurement
procedure and methodology should be made available, not only so that MISs can be
calculated by everyone in the same way, but also because transparency means bet-
ter quality (outsiders can verify the methodology), which in turn means more legi-
timacy and acceptability for the measurement.

4.2. Statistical soundness


All traditional statistical safeguards should be put into place. For example, when
MISs are calculated on the basis of survey data, the representativity and random-
ness of the samples should be guaranteed. The wording of the questions should be
handled with great care. The definitions of what is to be measured should be estab-
lished etc.

4.3. Cultural sensitivity


Because MISs are calculated for a maximum number of countries, there may be a
need for cultural sensitivity in the design of an MIS. For example, one should take
into account the possibility that definitions and question wordings are understood
differently in different cultures. It is important that a particular MIS measures the
same thing everywhere. Hence, a particular point of attention in the design of an
MIS should be that definitions and questions are understood in the same way in all
cultures.

4.4. Simple or composite measures


When possible, composite or duplicate measurements should be used. Torture for
example can be measured by way of surveys asking people on their experiences
with torture, by way of the number of convictions for torture, by way of the amount

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


of funds available for anti-torture programs or education etc.19 These different
measures serve to corroborate or falsify each other, and, in case of corroboration,
can be aggregated or combined into a single, composite measure (in which case it is
important to communicate the different elements of the composite measure so that
it is clear how it is established20).
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4.5. Useful output

On the output side, one has to reflect on the type of result one expects from an MIS.
Does one want an ordinal scales,21 and, if so, of what type? In its simplest form, an
MIS can rank for example a country according to the level of respect for a particu-
lar right during a particular period (the ranking may be for example "good", "me-
dium", "bad"). Of course, many MSIs will go way beyond this simple type of
measure.

If it is decided not to use an ordinal scale, and to measure countries in view of a


certain absolute minimum level of respect for a particular human right, then one has
to determine this level. When measuring performance by comparing it to a certain
absolute standard, benchmark, or ideal ("standard adherence measures"22), it is vital
that there is some intercultural or international agreement on this ideal (for exam-
ple, there is now an internationally agreed level of absolute poverty23).

5. What should be measured?

5.1. Types of measurements


It's important to realize that the concept of "quantitative approach" covers in fact a
collection of different types of indicators.24 I already mentioned the importance of
measuring difference between countries and progress over time. It can also be use-
ful to make in-country comparisons, especially for the larger countries with federal
structures, such as the US. Obviously, global indicators are necessary as well, and
many MISs should be calculated by gender, race, class etc. Finally, it is perhaps not
impossible to dream of an overall "human rights score" of the level of countries and
the world, being the aggregate of all other measures, although the specific policy
implications of such a measure will be fairly limited.

19
The Scope of Human Rights: From Background Concepts to Indicators, Todd Landman (2005), p. 13.
20
See The Metagora Project, http://www.metagora.org/html/index.html.
21
See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_measurement
22
Human Rights Indicators, Purpose and Validity, Sano (2005), p. 6.
23
World Bank, http://www.worldbank.org/poverty/
24
Human Rights Indicators, Purpose and Validity, Sano (2005), p. 2.

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


5.2. Cross-measurements

It is also important to avoid measuring human rights independently from each oth-
er. One should compare different indicators and try to establish correlations be-
tween different measurements for different human rights. Such correlations are ex-
Page | 12 amples of the power of statistical analysis to uncover what other types of analysis
cannot (although one should warn about the difference between correlation and
causation). At the same time, they show how different types of rights are interde-
pendent. A useful reminder for some governments tempted to sacrifice some rights
for the sake of others.

5.3. Meta-measurements
Another important distinction is between, on the one hand, measures of actual re-
spect or violations of human rights (de facto realization of rights), and, on the other
hand, what we could call meta-measures:

Measuring legal protection, or de jure state commitments (measuring codi-


fication levels, levels of participation in international treaties etc.)
Measuring institutional protection (measuring the existence and efficiency
of institutional safeguards for human rights: judiciary, police, separation of
powers, rule of law, the availability of complaints and redress mechanisms
etc.)
Measuring public opinion on the legitimacy of human rights and public per-
ceptions of respect for human rights (human rights depend for their protec-
tion not only on state actions (or state forbearance), but also on the actions
(or forbearance) of one's fellow-citizens and of international actors)
Measuring government policies, priorities and efforts in the field of human
rights.

One can safely assume that bad score in these measurements are likely to result
sooner or later in bad scores for actual respect for human rights.

It's clear that not all indicators are directly linked to human rights, or, in other
words, try to measure human rights directly. Other aspects, which have an impact
on human rights, should also be measured: e.g. government efficiency, corruption,
GDP, income inequality, etc. The quantitative approach to human rights will there-
fore overlap somewhat with other fields of investigation, such as development, go-
vernance, crime etc.25 This is inevitable given the fact that many human rights vi-
olations are of an economic, criminal or political nature.

25
Human Rights Indicators, Purpose and Validity, Sano (2005), p. 8.

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


5.4. Stylized example

Take the example of the right to a certain standard of living or the right not to suf-
fer poverty. We can create a time series of the number of people (or the proportion
of a population) having a level of income which we deem to be sufficient (e.g. an
Page | 13 income more than $1 PPP a day), and evaluate if there is progress or not, and if
some countries (or regions within a country) progress faster than others (e.g. in the
form a colored map of a country or of the world). We can estimate, on the basis of
the time series, when a certain proportion of a given population will achieve a level
of income which we deem to be sufficient.

We can complement this with an ordinal scale, separating countries or parts of a


population within a country according to their level of poverty (e.g. extreme, me-
dium, low, none). And we can aggregate different country measures into a global
indicator. We can look at the income differences between genders, races, or ethnic
groups, within a country/region or worldwide.

Subsequently, we can try to identify which other indicators seem to correlate with
low or high income (for example levels of corruption). These correlations can then
point towards a possible causal link, suggesting further investigation of the causes
of poverty. If this further investigation is successful in identifying a causal link,
then governments and international institutions can focus their anti-poverty policies
more successfully.

Apart from measuring poverty directly, we can measure to which extent a country
or countries have committed themselves to the fight against poverty, have created
and funded efficient institutions and policies etc. And we can measure popular sup-
port for this type of government action.

5.5. Other examples

Some of the best-known indicators are:

The Freedom House measure of political freedom


(http://www.freedomhouse.org/)
Reporters Without Borders data on press freedom (http://www.rsf.org/)
The Polity IV measure of democracy
(http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/polity4.htm)
UNHCR statistics on refugees (http://www.unhcr.org/)
FAO statistics on food and hunger
(http://faostat.fao.org/site/562/default.aspx)
The Millennium Development Goals (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/)
The Human Development Index (http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/)
ILO statistics on work (http://laborsta.ilo.org/)
Death Penalty Information Center (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/)

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


US Bureau of Criminal Justice statistics
(http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/welcome.html)
WHO statistics on health (http://www.who.int/topics/statistics/en/)
Transparency International (http://www.transparency.org/)
Global Integrity Report (http://report.globalintegrity.org/)
Page | 14 SIPRI data on war and conflict (http://www.sipri.org/)
Privacy International (http://www.privacyinternational.org/)
UNESCO statistics on education (http://www.uis.unesco.org/)

6. What are the problems with measurements?

As stated before, we are dealing here with a highly immature field of research,
which is evident from the wide range of problems that we face. Some of those
problems have already been mentioned.

6.1. Statistical problems


Statistical data can be lacking or of unequal quality in certain countries, causing
problems for comparability. As a result, one may have to decide between detailed
information that is not available everywhere, and rather more superficial informa-
tion of perhaps doubtful quality that is available everywhere. The latter approach
makes it possible to have a global view and a basis for country comparisons which
obscure important nuances and only give a rough indication of performance instead
of an accurate one. For some purposes, however, this may be sufficient.

Data from different countries may also be incomparable due to differences in me-
thodologies or concepts and definitions (representativity of survey populations26,
question formulation issues etc.).

Some of the indicators which are doing the rounds are not transparent. It's not clear
how they are established.

Some ordinal scales show "variance truncation": due to a low number of gradations,
countries that are vastly different find themselves in the same score.

Sampling problems in the creation of survey data are quite common. Samples may
not be fully random. The Metagora project27 gives the following example. Suppose
we make a random sample of households in order to measure income and poverty,
but we omit to include homeless people in the sample because we do not have in-
formation about them (addresses etc.). Our results will be biased.

26
Report of the Eurostat Conference on Statistics and Human Rights (2002), p. 14.
27
The Metagora Project, http://www.metagora.org/html/index.html.

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


6.2. Political problems

Statistics are often produced by government agencies, and governments are the
most common rights violators.28 Neutrality and objectivity may therefore be lack-
ing, and some data may be withhold or manipulated for political reasons, or simply
Page | 15 not collected.

Surveys may be biased because they tend to become less random when repression
or violence is more common. People de-select themselves from the survey because
they are afraid. Another reason for biased surveys is the possibility that questions
are understood differently in different cultures or countries, creating problems for
country comparisons.

There's also the "Paradox of human rights statistics": less information on rights vi-
olations may imply the existence of more violations. The difficulty of gathering in-
formation on rights violations is in itself an indicator of rights violations. There is
more information available about human rights violations in open societies because
they have a free press, freedom of entry and movement for NGOs and other moni-
toring bodies, etc.29 This imbalance in the availability of information can bias mea-
surements and country comparisons. Differences in scores may reflect differences
in information on rights violations rather than differences in rights violations as
such.

Measurements can be misused in order to prioritize and select certain human rights
policies, for example on the basis of the numbers of certain measurements. This
will ultimately fail because of the interdependence of human rights.

6.3. How to improve measurements?

Given the importance of statistical and survey data, governments should invest in
their statistical apparatus, in data collection efforts (improving existing efforts and
collecting new data if necessary) and in codes of conduct and ethical standards for
statistical work. International institutions such as the UN, the IMF and others have
to assist them in this, and have a special responsibility regarding harmonization of
definitions and statistical procedures.

Governments, but also NGOs engaged in rights measurement, should strive towards
transparency and methodological accountability for all indicators, including trans-
parency about possible shortcomings in the data so as to avoid misinterpretation.

28
Report of the Eurostat Conference on Statistics and Human Rights (2002), p. 18.
29
The Quantitative Study of Human Rights Violations, Cingarelli & Richards (2007), p. 4.

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


7. Conclusions

This paper started from the premise that the quantitative approach to human rights
violations is as important as it is immature. The problems it faces are gigantic, as
Page | 16 are the investments necessary to improve and expand the available data. However,
these investments will pay themselves back many times over. I tried to offer a defi-
nition and a defense of the approach, citing its numerous theoretical advantages. At
the same time, I described the disadvantages and the existing shortcomings, as well
as the way to overcome them.

A final remark could be that it is not enough to measure human rights. Rights viola-
tions will not disappear when we know their magnitude. The measurements should
be used and should drive policies.

References
Andreassen & Sano (2004), What’s the Goal? What’s the Purpose? Observations
on Human Rights Impact Assessment,
http://www.humanrights.uio.no/forskning/publikasjoner/arkiv/rn/2004/0204.pdf
Asher, Banks & Scheuren (2007), Statistical Methods for Human Rights, Springer
Ball & Spirer, Making the Case, Investigating Large Scale Human Rights Viola-
tions Using Information Systems and Data Analysis, http://shr.aaas.org/mtc/
Benetech's Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), http://www.hrdag.org/
Cingarelli & Richards (2007), The Quantitative Study of Human Rights Violations,
https://umdrive.memphis.edu/drich1/public/POLS%203320%20Spring%202008/Ci
ngranelli_%20Richards_Quantitative_Study_of_Human_Rights_Violations.pdf
CIRI Human Rights Data Project, http://ciri.binghamton.edu
Hafner-Burton & Ron (2009), Seeing Double: Human Rights Impact Through Qua-
litative and Quantitative Eyes, World Politics 61, no. 2,
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Delivery.cfm/SSRN_ID1292431_code1003168.pdf?abs
tractid=1287858&mirid=1
Jabine & Claude (1992), Human Rights and Statistics, University of Pennsylvania
Press
Landman, Todd (2003), Map-Making and Analysis of the Main International Initia-
tives on Developing Indicators on Democracy and Good Governance,
http://web.abo.fi/instut/imr/research/seminars/indicators/final-report.pdf
Landman, Todd (2005), The Scope of Human Rights: From Background Concepts
to Indicators,
http://web.abo.fi/instut/imr/research/seminars/indicators/Background.pdf
Malhotra & Fasel (2005), Quantitative Human Rights Indicators, A Survey of Ma-
jor Initiatives, http://www.jus.uio.no/forskning/grupper/humrdev/Project-
Indicators/Workshop06/Background/Malhotra&Fasel.pdf
The Metagora Project, http://www.metagora.org/html/index.html
Report of the Eurostat Conference on Statistics and Human Rights in Brussels,
Belgium (2002),

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli


http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/pls/portal/docs/PAGE/PGP_DS_COOP/PGE_DS_
COOP_03/TAB59144315/TAB59144831/REPORT-FINAL_0.PDF
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Sano, Hans-Otto (2005), Human Rights Indicators, Purpose and Validity,
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Scheinin, Martin (2005), Use of Indicators by Human Rights Treaty Bodies,
http://web.abo.fi/instut/imr/research/seminars/indicators/ScheininIndicators.doc
World Bank Poverty statistics, http://www.worldbank.org/poverty/

More references can be found here:


http://www2.law.uu.nl/english/sim/library/ecchrd/statistics.html

Human Rights, The Quantitative Approach | Filip Spagnoli