Data Reveal Human Rights Ratings for Governments Around the Globe

Blue world map.
Blue world map.

Year after year, the findings of the CIRI Human Rights Data Project ( have been used by a wide range of governments and global development agencies, including the United Nations, The World Bank, and USAID to make informed decisions. It has also helped guide grassroots efforts to demonstrate how individuals can become agents of change.

On Dec. 10 – Human Rights Day – CIRI directors David L. Richards at the University of Connecticut and David L. Cingranelli at SUNY Binghamton released their 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 2010, as well as trends in respect for human rights over time since 1981.

The fight to attain full government respect for all human rights is never-ending.

The CIRI data are included in the widely-used Worldwide Governance Indicators produced by researchers at the World Bank and the Brookings Institution (

“The CIRI dataset provides highly-regarded quantitative indicators on the state of human rights worldwide,” says Daniel Kaufmann of the Brookings Institution, coauthor of the Worldwide Governance Indicators. “For well over a decade, they have been a valuable input to the Worldwide Governance Indicators.”

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 the right to participate in free and fair elections for the selection of government leaders.
  • Workers’ rights, such as the right to bargain collectively.
  • Women’s rights to legal protection and equal treatment, politically and economically.

Globally, 2010 saw a reversal of some of the gains in respect for physical integrity rights made in 2009. This was driven by an increased use of torture in 2010 compared with 2009. For example, in 2010 the use of torture increased in 17 countries, while only eight countries saw a decrease.

“The decline of respect for this physical integrity right, globally, actually began in the early 1980s, not just post-9/11,” Richards says. “The continent of Africa has experienced the greatest increase in the use of torture since 1981, followed by Asia.”

Imprisonment for political beliefs, however, has decreased over the years; this is particularly true for Latin America.

“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,” says 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 Ethical Consumer Research Association uses the CIRI data, alongside other sources, to rank countries on human rights and generate a list of oppressive regimes, which feeds into their research regarding corporate social responsibility.

“The CIRI Human Rights Data project is a vital and unique resource,” says Leonie Nimmo, writer and research manager for the Ethical Consumer Research Association. “In addition to the utility of its data, CIRI’s robust research and transparent methodology positions the project as a truly ground-breaking initiative.”

“CIRI’s goal is for our data to provide governments, global development agencies, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals with reliable annual information helpful for making informed decisions towards doing their part in the fight to attain human dignity worldwide,” Richards says.

The CIRI project, based on data tracked since 1981 but adding some new data elements, was created in 2004 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. CIRI has more than 10,500 registered members.

Top 13 Countries (two countries tied for first place, three for second, and eight for third place):
[score out of a possible 30 points]
Denmark [30]
Iceland [30]
Austria [29]
New Zealand [29]
Norway [29]
Australia [28]
Belgium [28]
Finland [28]
Liechtenstein [28]
Luxembourg [28]
Netherlands [28]
San Marino [28]
Sweden [28]

The U.S. tied for 5th place with the UK and a number of other nations.

Bottom 10 Countries:
[score out of a possible 30 points]
Congo, Democratic Republic of [5]
Nigeria [5]
Saudi Arabia [4]
China [3]
Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of [3]
Yemen [3]
Zimbabwe [3]
Burma [2]
Eritrea [2]
Iran [2]