Annual International Human Rights Ratings Announced

The CIRI Human Rights Data Project has just released its annual ratings of government respect for human rights in nearly every country in the world, showing which countries had the best – and worst – records in 2009, as well as trends in respect for human rights over time since 1981.

The project, now located at the University of Connecticut, annually produces data that are used by a wide range of governments and global development agencies, including the United Nations, The World Bank, and USAID.

CIRI is named for the two U.S. university faculty members responsible for the data, Professor David Cingranelli of Binghamton University and Professor David Richards, who is now at UConn. The project was originally housed at Binghamton. When Richards, an associate professor of political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and an affiliate of the Human Rights Institute, joined the University faculty this fall, he brought CIRI to UConn.

The project provides measures of several types of internationally-recognized human rights, including:

Physical integrity rights: The rights not to be tortured, extra-judicially killed, made to disappear, or imprisoned for political beliefs.
Civil rights and liberties: The rights to free speech, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of domestic movement, freedom of international movement freedom of religion, and to participate in free and fair elections for the selection of government leaders.
Workers’ rights
Women’s rights
to legal protection and equal treatment politically, economically, and socially.

For background on the methodology and coding of the data, visit the CIRI website.

The 11 countries in 2009 with the worst human rights records on the 15 rights tracked by CIRI were, with their scores out of a possible 30 points, were:

Zimbabwe (2)
China (2)
Myanmar (2)
Iran (2)
Kosovo (3)
Saudi Arabia (3)
Pakistan (4)
Yemen (4)
Eritrea (5)
Sudan (5)
Uzbekistan (5)

The 11 countries in 2009 with the best human rights records on the 15 rights tracked by CIRI were, and their scores out of a possible 30 points, were:

Norway (29)
San Marino (29)
Canada (29)
Belgium (28)
Luxembourg (28)
Sweden (28)
Finland (28)
Denmark (28)
Iceland (28)
New Zealand (28)
Slovenia (28)

The United States scored 25 out of a possible 30. A full list of nations is available at the CIRI website.

“The year 2009 saw many of the same countries as 2008 showing both the most and least respect for the rights tracked by CIRI. Zimbabwe, China, Myanmar, and Iran, for example, persisted in being among the greatest violators of these rights,” said Richards. “Finland, Luxembourg, Norway, and Denmark, for example, again were all among those countries with the greatest respect for these rights.”

The world saw decline in respect for several rights from 2008 to 2009. Government respect for the rights of workers, including freedom to collectively bargain, strike, and join unions, declined on average worldwide from 2008, especially in Africa and Oceania. No government in either Africa or Asia fully respected this right in 2009. Respect for women’s political rights declined in every region of the world from 2008-2009 except Oceania, particularly in Africa and Latin America.

Improvement in respect from 2008-2009 was also seen for several rights. While the use of torture by governments, worldwide, has increased fairly steadily since the start of the CIRI data in 1981, the year 2009 saw a rare reversal of this trend – less incidence of torture than the previous year. Only Latin America saw more torture in 2009 than in 2008, with Argentina, Honduras, St. Vincent, and Uruguay all manifesting more torture than the previous year. Not all the news was bad; Colombia and Paraguay both saw the use of torture decrease from 2008. Africa saw a significant decrease in torture, with six countries’ usage decline from 2008 levels.

The greatest change in respect from 2008 to 2009 for any of the rights was the improvement in the ability of citizens to determine their leaders through free and fair elections, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Africa mostly saw improvement from citizens having no ability to exercise this right to having some ability to do so, while several Latin America countries saw improvement from some respect for this right to the full realization of this right.

“One important thing to keep in mind is that the fight to attain full government respect for all human rights is never-ending – a score of full respect for a right this year does not mean that full respect will necessarily continue or threats to respect for that right will not arise in the following year,” said Richards. “Likewise, a bad score, even if persistent over time, does not imply that better respect is impossible. Knowing those countries with the worst human rights records is indeed to know where the most work is to be done.”

The CIRI project was created in 1994 to provide data for the research of the project directors and others who conduct quantitative studies of government human rights practices. Its data now are also widely used by governments, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, think-tanks, and private businesses. CIRI requires users to register in order to access the data, but the data are freely available upon registration. As of November 2010, CIRI has more than 7,500 registered members.

Dec. 10 is Human Rights Day, in honor of the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948.